In the backroom of a tiny store in New York’s Chinatown, behind a curtain that reads, “Check Out The Other Side,” you can have a woman dressed in shades of white and cream place a sheet over your head. Said sheet has two eyeholes, a fitted skullcap and a weighty fabric—there’s even a mesh black panel that ensures the eyeholes are as dark as can be. In short, it’s the ideal ghost sheet.
What sounds like a Portlandia gag about an artisanal Halloween shop is actually a promotion for David Lowery’s new film, A Ghost Story. And once you’re inside, the whole undertaking feels like anything but a gag.
When your ghost garb is in place, the woman leads you to a smaller room where there are three mannequins—also in ghost sheets—but it looks like there are dozens more because the room is lined with infinity mirrors. The film’s ethereal soundtrack plays and the woman leaves you in the mirror-filled room to have a moment by yourself to reflect about time and space or whatever you might think of, maybe the sign outside the shop that reads, “Eternity Awaits,” or how one day you will die and maybe you’ll become a ghost or maybe not, who knows?
The whole experience is based on the film, which follows a ghost played by Casey Affleck and examines grief, time and what it means to exist. It’s no surprise then that the immersive marketing effort, created by A24 along with designer Steven Jos Phan and digital design shop Watson DG, tries to tease out someone’s existential curiosities.
“It’s unexpectedly profound,” said Lowery. “I’ve been encouraging people to go and give yourself time to go there. It isn’t just marketing for the movie. There’s no branding there—not really—it’s more a personal experience that does tie in to the movie in a strange way but ultimately is more just about you, and that’s a really incredible thing.”
A Ghost Store is located at 51A Chrystie Street and has been open since mid June. It will continue through the end of next week, though A24 has talked about extending the run. You can also watch a live feed of the store online.
If you’re interested in purchasing the ghost sheet, you’ll have to hold a button on your keyboard while watching an eight-minute video with anxiety-inducing messages like, “Don’t You Want to Let Go?” (We just did the digital experience and it seems the store is out of stock, so save yourself some time.)
“It’s such a simple, minimal idea, and we saw [the ghost sheet] as the one thing that could be the brand for the movie that everyone could latch onto,” said Graham Retzik, head of marketing for A24. “The whole position and tone of the movie is playful yet contemplative. So that idea of making the sheet iconic, and this playful yet contemplative positioning—we kind of put that together and thought, what’s more playful than this idea of selling ghost sheets but then including all of these contemplative, existential issues and themes and layering all that in and then putting them in this e-commerce, retail packaging?”
When you first enter the space you see signs that say, “There Is No Going Back,” “It’s Time to Let Go” and “How Will This Change My Life?” You’re then asked to fill out a questionnaire that asks you to illustrate your understanding of time and share your most distant memory, among other surprisingly personal questions.
“The idea was first broached on a phone call some time last spring,” said Lowery. “I feel like they were very careful with how they presented it to me because it could seem so silly. I feel like the way it came out was, ‘So we have this idea and the idea is that we want to open a … ghost … store.’ And they said it very slowly like that to make sure that I understood exactly what they were saying.
“I just started laughing because it seemed so hilarious. It’s a pun on the title for one thing. The idea that this movie could beget something like that almost seemed ludicrous to me. But I was really into it at the same time.”
Lowery said he and writer Toby Halbrooks came up with several unusual ideas to promote their movie Pete’s Dragon, including a ride at Disneyland that never got off the ground.
“I’m always open to crazy ideas like that,” he added. “Some movies can support that. Others can’t. A Ghost Story felt like a unique opportunity to do something truly creative simply because it’s about someone wearing a bed sheet.”