In Jerry Zucker’s Ghost (1990), when artist Molly (Demi Moore) declares her love for boyfriend Sam (Patrick Swayze), all the undemonstrative beau can say in return is an unromantic “Ditto” – and before he can make amends, he is murdered, so that he must prove his true love to her from beyond the grave. This is the origin of the slang term ‘ghosted’, first used, precisely, of the behaviour of a love interest who does not reciprocate an expression of affection. Subsequently the term has been modified for online dating to refer to the practice of severing all communications with a would-be partner. All these associations come together in Ghosted, Neville Pierce’s second short film (following 2015’s Bricks), in which Rebecca (Alice Lowe, Prevenge), also an artist, goes on a series of awkward dates with men whom she has met on a dating site. Not only is there a deep dish of miscommunication on the table between them, but there is also the ghost of Rebecca’s husband Nigel (Christien Anholt), who died while cheating on her, and now points out to her the obvious flaws of her various suitors while distracting her from the business of moving on from him and his own imperfections.
Filming in black and white, and confining the action to a single restaurant space, Pierce carefully uses the frame to mark the distance between the couples. On the first date with the disinterested Paul (Ray Panthaki), shot reverse shot is used to keep the two divided; on the second, Rebecca is first shown in a two shot with Daniel (Jason Flemyng) as they share intimacies, and then, as she is put off by his revealed baggage, each of them is show in a one shot; on the third, with the younger Ralphie (Jassa Ahluwalia), Nigel sits literally between them; and on the fourth, all these different techniques are combined to alienate Rebecca from her latest hook-up Sebastian (Richard Glover). All the while, Rebecca’s attention is occasionally drawn to Tom (David Elliott), a man at a nearby table also undergoing a series of terrible dates. With Tom she will eventually share the frame and a table, finally leaving Nigel out of focus at the margins. Though rooted in grief and psychological stasis, Ghosted is a breezy, witty affair, coming over as both a showcase of the horrors of dating, and a reimagining of Truly Madly Deeply (1991) for the digital age. For here, dating is a gradual exorcism of the past.
© Anton Bitel