Published by Glasgowist.
Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper, starring Kristen Stewart, gives audiences an alternative look at the paranormal. This film is one that is hard to distinguish in terms of genre as we flit between moments of suspense building, uncomfortable silence, and that tense, eerie feeling that someone is watching you (characteristic of Hitchcock). Yet, there are many traditional horror movie scares, too. So, is Personal Shopper a thriller, a horror, or a film about the self?
Stewart gives a personal, delicate, and methodical performance as Maureen Cartwright, an American woman living in Paris, working as a personal shopper for the insufferable, high-end fashion supermodel Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). In addition to having a strange, self-indulgent obsession to become someone else by trying on her diva boss’s haute couture clothes and accessories when she’s not around, there is also another, darker, side to Maureen.
Her job keeps her from what she really wants to focus on, being a medium. As Maureen returns to the classic haunted house archetype in the middle of nowhere where she grew up, we learn of her pact with her dead twin brother Lewis (also a medium) who promised to send her a definitive sign of the afterlife if he died before she did.
In an effort to get closure and finally move on from her twin’s untimely death, Maureen wills Lewis to make contact with her in a process that seems more like a self-exorcism than an attempt to exercise her brother’s lingering spirit. In the creaking, groaning manor house where Maureen creeps around at night, looking for ‘signs’, Assayas provides the film’s tensest moments that are in all but complete darkness and in such quiet that you can hear the audience members around you trying to control their quickening breaths.
In a gripping, digital age horror twist, Maureen receives a sequence of creepy text messages in quick succession from an unknown number as she travels to London to collect clothes for Kyra. Becoming increasingly unnerved by the mystery messenger who refuses to reveal their identity, Maureen turns flight mode on and off periodically, torn between her curiosity to find out who is texting her and her fear of who is texting her. As the person using the unknown number urges Maureen to consider the real reason she is ‘waiting’ in Paris, Assayas hints that perhaps nobody is haunting Maureen, but that she is haunting herself. As she is led to a hotel room booked under her own name, things take a bizarre, violent turn with a bloody murder soon following.
While we do experience the kind of tense, creepy, thriller moments reminiscent of Single White Female, there are several points which seem to be not quite plot inconsistences, but plot points that don’t seem to mesh together or provide progression. A lot of what happens comes across as surprisingly, abrupt, or unconvincing, and the film does suffer as a result. Maureen’s encounters with the paranormal often become too obvious and manufactured to incite fear, leaving the audience feeling torn and somewhat unsatisfied. But considering the subject matter, perhaps this lack of neat closure was Assayas’s intention all along.
Personal Shopper provides insights into the alternate nature of loss, solitude, spirituality, and closure. Assayas explores the strange rituals used in our treatment of death, and while the enigmatic plot does appear to lack something on a surface level, Stewart’s intimate, refreshing portrayal of Maureen’s private life, experiments, and passions is insightful and oddly stimulating.
What did you think of Personal Shopper? Let me know in the comment section below and keep checking moon child for more Glasgow Film Festival reviews.