Personal Shopper Review: A Gripping and Disconcerting Art House Horror
Director: Oliver Assayas
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Nora von Waldstätten, Anders Danielsen Lie, Sigrid Bouaziz, Ty Olwin
Running Time: 110 mins
Release Date: 17th March 2017
PERSONAL SHOPPER quickly introduces us to Maureen (Kristen Stewart), a despairingly bored personal shopper living in Paris and working for a rude German celebutante (Nora von Waldstätten), who manages to perfectly filter through obscenely priced couture clothing and jewels for her client faster then I can even put on my socks. On the flip side, she’s a practicing medium battling with grief over the death of her twin brother from a heart condition she too struggles with. Despite living in a modern world where communication is constant, she is isolated in her job (where her boss rarely resonates, just leaving small notes here and there), detached from her boyfriend (whose living in Yemen for work) and battling with an inner forbidden desire to try on each and every fashion garment placed in her hands.
Whilst living amongst the hustle and bustle of the fashion world, Maureen is desperate to receive some kind of sign from her brother in the afterlife, and soon it becomes clear that there are other ominous forces at work, the real question is are they living or not?
This is a really interesting film, especially as it cannot fit snugly into one particular genre. Its a potent cocktail of fashion, horror, sexuality, and the supernatural; it could almost be considered part of the art house sub genre of horror. The film itself rides on the shoulder’s of Kristen Stewart, who must largely play off herself throughout which is hard to do without the audience losing interest. The clashing of different worlds, in this case the world of fashion and her connection to the afterlife, makes it an enthralling watch especially as the lines between real life and imagination begin to blur for Stewart’s character Maureen, and us as an audience as a result.
At times it felt like I was watching three different films all tightly squeezed together as one, which makes it sound as though it doesn’t manage to accomplish coherency, on the contrary it works rather well. While I’m already exasperated from an element of the narrative, another comes over and occupies my anxiety, and before you know it you’re trying to tie all the loose ends that have been presented to you. A scene in particular where Maureen is going through an exchange of messages on her phone to an unknown number whilst on the Eurostar to London is remarkably intense, almost Hitchcockian. The tension climbs considerably when the messages become menacing and taunting, and yet Kristen Stewart’s character continues to engage, deliberating whether she’s communicating with a real person or perhaps something metaphysical. I felt this was a really compelling snapshot of her disposition, being able to slowly watching paranoia take over as she crumbles in fear and confusion.
PERSONAL SHOPPER is easily one of Kristen Stewart’s best films of recent, with over 39 films to her name at only 26. I, like many, was captivated by her performance in David Fincher’s PANIC ROOM, but she was quickly swept away throughout the TWILIGHT SAGA hype putting her in the ‘not to be taken seriously as an actor teen sensation’ box. She managed to make a comeback and crawled into a bunch of independent films where some of her best work has taken place, for example Floria Sigismondi‘s THE RUNAWAYS, Walter Salles‘ ON THE ROAD, and Kelly Reichardt‘s CERTAIN WOMEN.
But even with the good in films comes the bad. It is difficult to present a communication of the afterlife without playing from the old book of tricks, and I felt PERSONAL SHOPPER was no different in certain areas. Towards the end, Maureen is in the garden having a conversation with her deceased brother’s girlfriend’s new boyfriend (I know, what a mouthful), and simultaneously in the background we see the slow moving figure of what we assume is her brother who then drops a glass on the ground to likely announce his existence. It’s an antic used time and time again that made the people sitting around me nearly jump out of their chairs, however for me it was a moment that seemed uncalled for. I didn’t physically need to see him to justify his presence. Just as much as I didn’t need to see a malevolent female spirit vomit ectoplasm. The quiet and tension, and general unknown is far more scary.
It’s a film that will divide opinions like marmite, but I can categorically say I’ve never seen a hybrid film that kept me guessing as much as this one.
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