Friday 16 June 2017

Sydney Film Festival (23) - A GHOST STORY (David Lowery, USA). Reviewed by Barrie Pattison

Well I saw two movie leads straighten up on the coroner’s slab in the one day, Tom Cruise in The Mummy and Casey Affleck in Texas fringe film maker David Lowery’s Ghost Story.

I couldn’t avoid noticing that we have a clear evolution of film monsters - Germany in the teens, Universal classics, Hollywood B movies and the European rip- offs of Hammer Studios, Paul Naschy and the rest, going up market with Coppola and Corman.

On the other hand ghosts seem to start from scratch every time. There’s no indication that Patrick Swayze’s lot had ever seen The Uninvited (Lewis Allen, USA, 1944) or either one was familiar with silent The Headless Horseman (Edward D Venturini, USA, 1922).

Lowery’s film seems determined to be conspicuous and begin over again. For one thing it’s in old academy frame shape complete with round corners and it has no reliance on editing, most scenes being one take. The plot is non-linear though it isn’t a strain to follow. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck move into a timber tract house where there are mysterious light patterns on the wall. We cut from their make out to her standing over the car accident and then we get all the manifestations - he turns up as a Halloween ghost in a sheet and goes the poltergeist route, disturbing her and subsequent owners till the wrecking ball intrudes - a plunge off a high rise, frontier life with an Indian raid and what is a recapitulation of what we already now.

It manages atmosphere without atmospherics and is curiously touching – even haunting! (Texas cameraman Andrew Droz Palermo filmed Hannah Fidell’s indie A Teacher which played here late night TV recently.)

 The film’s comic spooky mood gets and holds attention and suggests we are breaking new ground. However, we have been here before. Robert Downey the elder’s Greaser's Palace of 1972 was an acid western Christ story fielding a Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost turned up in a sheet complaining “It’s always the other two. When do I get to do my stuff?” The pair of films have a community. I wonder whether they are aware of that.

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