Morgan Meis in The Porch:
Every ghost story that has ever been told has its roots in existential panic. It is a panic we’ve all experienced at some time or other, generally in the wee hours when the mind turns to fear and death. The secret truth is that the ghost stories we tell later, once we’ve calmed down, are really a form of consolation. The stories serve to forestall our root fear by means of spooks and scares. The idea that there are spectres out there, many of them malevolent, is preferable to the alternative, which is that there is nothing “out there” at all. An evil spirit is, at least, confirmation of an afterlife, if an angry confirmation.
The scariest ghost story imaginable, then, would be a ghost story in which there is no ghost, in which there can be no ghosts, because there is only the abyss.
David Lowery’s new film A Ghost Story flirts at the edge of such an abyss. In the film, a young man (Casey Affleck) dies in a car crash, leaving his young wife (Rooney Mara) to mourn him. The young man, whose name we never learn, comes back in the form of a ghost. We know he’s a ghost because he is wearing a white sheet over his head. The white-sheeted ghost proceeds to “haunt” the house in which he previously lived. Eventually, his wife moves out. But the ghost stays. New tenants come and go. The ghost stays. The house is demolished and a giant office is built in its place. The ghost stays. The ghost is thrown back in time (just go with it) and experiences events at the same spot long before the house was built. Still, the ghost stays.