Every so often pieces of pop culture have similar names without being remotely similar in terms of content, and I don’t know about you, but they often trip me up:
• The Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy cop comedy The Heat vs. Michael Mann’s masterpiece Heat, which Petr deep dove into with his recent piece about Collateral
• The Jim Carrey film The Mask vs. the ’80s Cher and Eric Stoltz vehicle Mask
• True crime documentary The Thin Blue Line vs. Terrence Malick’s amazingly stacked The Thin Red Line, with George Clooney, Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, our favorite new terrible person Sean Penn, and a lot of other dudes
And now, most recently, A Ghost Story vs. Ghost Stories. One of these is a pretentious relationship drama with Casey Affleck wandering around underneath a sheet, stalking his wife (played by Rooney Mara) after he dies and exploring the nature of grief. One of these is a deeply unsettling horror movie about a professor and debunker of the paranormal, played by co-writer and co-director Andy Nyman, who is tasked with investigating three cases that may dissuade him of his committed belief that the supernatural does not exist. I watched Ghost Stories upon Kristy’s recommendation and now I am definitely going to have nightmares so THANKS, KRISTY.
How do these movies compare and contrast, despite names that are only a few letters off from each other? Let’s break it down because maybe by talking about Ghost Stories I won’t be so unbelievably freaked out by it. Fingers crossed! (And spoilers for both movies ahead!)
Ghost harasses happy family
Yes, this happens in A Ghost Story, when Affleck’s undead character throws things at a Hispanic family who has moved into his old house. It’s pretty crappy!
Creepy women’s asylum is creepy
You know, apparently a sanitarium where unwed mothers, abandoned babies, and other unwanted women are dumped is super depressing and very creepy. One of the flashbacks in Ghost Stories takes place in a shadowy, seemingly empty area of a woman’s asylum where a nightwatchman keeps hearing a baby’s cries, and it’s just as eerie as you would expect.
Ghost is pushed out because of gentrification
Sometimes the house you lived in with the wife you didn’t pay much attention to gets razed, and you’re evicted. Not even ghosts can survive this insane real estate climate! Yes, this happens in A Ghost Story, which jumps forward into the future and shows that a skyscraper has been built on the land where Affleck’s character once lived with Mara’s character.
Devil is victim of car accident
For as much as A Ghost Story tries to address questions of morality and philosophy juxtaposed with the passing of years, decades, and centuries of time, it doesn’t really get specific with ideas about religion. It is Ghost Stories, though, that has a second flashback sequence devoted to a character played by Alex Lawther (of the very good The End of the F***ing World), who steals his parents’ car and in the middle of the night quite possibly hits the devil with his luxury automobile. That seems kind of silly, but Lawther plays the whole thing straight, and his crazed eyes give extra weight to this section of the film. The character’s altercation with the Prince of Darkness pushes him off his axis quite a bit, widening a gap between him and his parents and making him do bizarre things like line his bedroom with dozens of Victorian prints of the devil and keep the temperature extra-toasty. It’s weird as hell!
This goddamn pie scene
I don’t recall anyone eating in Ghost Stories, so yes, this is the infamous pie scene from A Ghost Story. Perhaps you have forgotten that Mara alleged this is the first time she ever ate pie? Girl, please. (Numerous people walked out of the press screening I attended of this movie during this scene. I am warning you.)
Scary baby you never see, like in Rosemary’s Baby
Roman Polanski is a garbage-ass person, and I haven’t watched anything he’s created in years. But I did see Rosemary’s Baby before I was aware of his terrible actions, and I struggle with how foundational of a horror movie this is for my understanding of the genre given everything else I know about Polanski. That movie is brought to mind while watching Ghost Stories, which incorporates a few different terrifying infants into its storytelling, including one child that is discussed in frightening language — its father, played by a somewhat maniacally glib Martin Freeman, says that the baby “tore” his wife apart during labor. We see the baby wrapped in a blanket later on, and we hear it cries, and we see Freeman feeding it meat, but what we don’t see makes it infinitely scarier. Kind of like baby Voldemort.
Will Oldham getting philosophical about the destruction of our universe
Does the rootsy Americana vibe of singer-songwriter Will Oldham (who, I must admit, I like very much) fit in with the British Ghost Stories? Sure doesn’t! Instead, Oldham shows up in A Ghost Story as a stand-in for director David Lowery, delivering a rant about the inevitability of death that is very on the nose for a film that is already pretty damn on the nose. I don’t necessarily disagree with this monologue, but it sure does capture the somewhat patronizing vibe of A Ghost Story — unintentionally so, I think.
Mysterious, cloaked figure appears at inopportune times
Ding ding ding, this actually happens in both A Ghost Story and Ghost Stories, and is essentially the only similarity between the two films. Affleck is of course the titular character in the former, appearing for only a few minutes as his normally disheveled, bearded self before dying in a car accident and coming back in an old-timey Halloween costume.
And there’s also a figure in an oversized hooded jacket who pops up in Ghost Stories, jarring the protagonist and suggesting that perhaps his insistence that there is no supernatural or paranormal world isn’t as true as he thinks.
But that’s basically where the plot overlap between the two films ends. My suggestion? Watch Ghost Stories with your lights on, if you can (and maybe twice, as Kristy suggests) and be prepared for jump scares galore. There are many, and they are intense. Excuse me while I go crawl under my desk.