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David Lowery's A Ghost Story (2017) takes a familiar premise and becomes something we've never quite seen before. It won numerous awards, but spent less time in the theatres than the filmmakers might have liked.

That premise, like the sheet-ghost costume worn by Casey Affleck for most of the film, seems deceptively simple. A dead man refuses to leave his old life, and witnesses the future history of the place he inhabited. He follows the life of his grieving widow until she finally moves away. He then haunts the house as others take occupancy.

Of course, houses are as temporary as human bodies. Affleck's character, identified only as "C," remains rooted to his place even after the house is gone, and he no longer truly remembers why he's there.

The film features stunning visuals, and its story builds to a powerful conclusion. It suffers, alas, from a very slow start. These actors and this director could have made this story work in an hour, with perhaps even greater impact. Indeed, I initially wondered if it was one of those cases where someone takes their short film and remakes it as a feature. No, as it turns out. We're supposed to watch the protracted scene demonstrating M's (Rooney Mara) grief. I get its lingering length might be the point but, honestly, I would have understood without the art house excess. Likewise, the director clearly intended the mumbliness of the very real-world acting. The dialogue often takes a secondary role and, despite the importance of the overall sound design (and a few key conversations), the film could have eschewed dialogue entirely.

Pacing aside, A Ghost Story gets credit for taking the cliché image of the sheet-ghost and making it something affecting. Affleck pulls off a small miracle, conveying emotion while concealed.

I know some people love the first act for its studied realism. If you're not one of those people, I urge you, nevertheless, to keep watching. A Ghost Story features brilliant visual style and a powerful payoff.

In a Hollywood dominated by familiar tropes, F/X blockbusters, and explosions, we need films like this one.

Written and directed by David Lowery

Casey Affleck as C
Rooney Mara as M
McColm Cephas Jr. as Little Boy
Kenneisha Thompson as Doctor
Grover Coulson as Man in Wheelchair
Liz Cardenas Franke as Linda
Barlow Jacobs as Gentleman Caller
Sonia Acevedo as Maria
Carlos Bermudez as Carlos
Yasmina Gutierrez as Yasmina
Kenneisha Thompson as Doctor
Will Oldham as Prognosticator
Brea Grant as Clara
Rob Zabrecky, Sara Tomerlin as Pioneers
David Lowery as Neighbour
Kesha as Spirit Girl