A Ghost Story has an interesting enough premise -- after an untimely death, Casey Affleck's character returns to his home as a white-sheeted ghost to find himself only able to witness the passing of time and the change of his lover from the background.
The problem is that we spend so little time with Mara and Affleck that we don't care sufficiently for them and even the flashbacks to their relationship show discord and a complete lack of chemistry. Why does Affleck linger? There's really no good answer for that. And Lowery's attempt to show the depth of grief that Mara feels through the onerous long-take of her eating through a pie feels like the distraction of a magician's assistant to divert our eyes away from the lack of any real movie magic of romantic connection.
There are some good flickers in A Ghost Story: his portrayal of the passage of time is creative and engaging, but is practically ruined by his insistence on using long takes. We get it, you want us to completely witness the mundane task of Rooney Mara dragging out garbage all the way out to the curb. The most egregious example of this is what serves as the film's thematic linchpin, when a party guest in the house waxes philosophical in a seemingly never-ending nihilistic strain about the futility of humanity. Oh how the audience wishes that at some point Affleck would burst in and exact some poltergeistic rampage, but instead one of the only times that Affleck takes such action is in a scene when he's apparently infuriated by the sight of a dairy product (kidding, kind of).
Speaking of egregious though, is the misuse of the talents of Mara and Affleck. Affleck, for goodness sake, is under a sheet for 85% of the movie and whatever Lowery's claims that his acting skills shine through the bedsheet, he is literally just a blanket with two black holes. And consider also that there is a framework of wires and petticoats under that sheet to allow Affleck to move the way he does. At least Tom Hardy could emote through his eyes even while impeded by Bane's mask and distorted voice in The Dark Knight Rises (which he did to artistic aplomb). For all we know, Affleck could just be an unpaid intern for a majority of the movie. Rooney Mara is hardly in the movie at all, reminiscent of the time we were promised that Guy Pearce would be in Prometheus only to be given a disappointing 8 minutes of him under heavy makeup, barely recognizable. At least she got a pie out of it, I guess.
A lot of A Ghost Story is beyond belief, and not in a supernatural sense. Why does Lowery shoot on a 1.37:1 ratio with rounded out edges (if not to make the movie instagram-ready)? Why waste what could have been an ingenious take on a haunting from the side of the ghost? Why were Mara and Affleck together in the first place? Also, do ghosts just inhabit the sheets of wherever they died? What if they don't have a blanket near them when they pass away?
The seeds of a good story are what keep A Ghost Story from completely tanking in terms of ratings. Also Lowery's tendencies to shoot the present in chilly colors, while illuminating the past with warm tones, are rudimentary but still lovely. Unfortunately, the bare bones of A Ghost Story make one doubt the integrity of any of his earlier features.