A24’s spooky way of promoting Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck’s ‘A Ghost Story’
The independent-film world is rife with ghosts, as anyone who has ever listened to a sales agent boast about the number of attendees at his screening could tell you.
On a Thursday night in lower Manhattan, however, the concept was taking a more literal form. The New York mini-studio A24 had established a pop-up called “A Ghost Store,” where guests could drop by and have a “meaningful reflection” as a spirit.
The store, in a revived post-industrial stretch of the city, had been established to promote A24’s new Casey Affleck-Rooney Mara supernaturally tinged drama “A Ghost Story,” proving that studios in these noisy times are finding increasingly novel ways to promote their films and also that every good marketing campaign begins with a pun.
Justin Chang reviews “A Ghost Story," directed by David Lowery and starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. Video by Jason H. Neubert.
In a front area, walls were emblazoned with maxims testing ghostly readiness. (“The transition from active participant to passive observer can be a difficult one. You must ask yourself if you are ready to transcend tangibility ad infinitum.”) Further back, a closed-off room was designed for more transmigratory purposes — participants could be “fitted” for a sheet, then sent into a hermetic space to play with other ghosts.
Invited patrons filled out clipboard surveys asking about their “deepest curiosity,” “distant memory” and any “debts” they might hold before they passed into the great beyond. Sheet preferences were also requested, the supernatural by way of the high thread-count.
Then guests were taken, one or two at a time, into a soundproof room away from the reception by a beatific man dressed in all white. Identifying himself as “Dylan,” he spoke in disconcertingly soothing tones about one’s readiness for ghostly status as he draped thick, large sheets over participants. (The space is open to the public Thursday-Sunday for the next several weeks.)
Dylan led the newly spirited by the front-train of their sheets — the outfit contained only narrow eyeholes; ghosts have little need for peripheral vision — into a well-lighted hall of mirrors where other ghosts were already present. (Said ghosts were human-sized mannequins with sheets draped on them. One hopes). As ethereal music played overhead, Dylan advised to “take as much time as you need” and closed the door. Reflection followed.
The project cements A24’s status as a company that takes as much of a curatorial approach to its marketing as to its movies (“Moonlight,” the upcoming “Menashe” and “Good Time”). It is the brainchild of Graham Retzik and Zoe Beyer, creative-marketing executives at the firm and overseers of many of its playful campaigns.
Beyer said she hoped the ghost store intrigued people about the new film but also provoked thoughts about their lives. She said she occasionally finds herself glued to a computer watching the livestream of people in the experience. (Yes, there’s a livestream; why should ghosts watch us but we not watch ghosts?)
Visiting the website, in fact, can be its own form of spookiness. The site follows you around the Internet the way the brief search for that bread-maker on Amazon follows you — via creepily personal ads embedded into other sites. Only in this case it doesn’t just replicate the search result but asks why you’ve left (ghosted?) and engages in other forms of needy omnipotence, haunting us in other ways.
Directed by David Lowery (“Pete’s Dragon”), the metaphor-laden and often silence-filled “Ghost Story” examines a woman (Mara) who may or may not be haunted by her husband’s ghost. Lowery in the film uses sheets as a kind of low-tech literalization of the concept, the ghosts not just figments of the mind but actors in Casperian costumes.
Reactions by people in the Ghost Store room can vary. Some dance, some cry, some take selfies. The connections to the film may seem subtextual, but the director said he found the project apt.
“The film was intended to give people space to think not only about the story but how the themes relate to them,” Lowery, who donned a sheet and appears in the movie as a ghost-extra himself, said in an interview at the event. “My hope is that, while regarding the images in here, minds can wander in a way that is complementary to what I’m trying to do with the movie.”
Then the director drifted out among other attendees, like them wondering what lay beyond the open wine bar.
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