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Review: Personal Shopper

October 9, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is an American working as a personal shopper in Paris, choosing and buying clothes for her rich clients to wear.  She wants to stay in Paris until she is contacted by her twin brother, who died in the city a year earlier, and promised to make contact with her from the afterlife.  But things take a turn when she starts receiving mysterious text messages, coming from someone who seems to know her every move.

The latest English language film from French director Olivier Assayas, Personal Shopper deftly balances a tone that oscillates between elements of supernatural horror, mystery, thriller and character drama about a woman grieving the death of her twin, while grappling with the fact that she has the same heart condition that claimed his life.  Throughout the film, we are left wondering if what we are watching is a literal ghost story, or a more metaphorical take on grief and fear.  Not only does this approach keep us compelled to the screen, but it also allows the film to make us contemplate our own beliefs about the afterlife, while constantly challenging us as to what is really happening.

Kristen Stewart is an intensely naturalistic performer who has her own set of tics and mannerisms, like biting her lip or playing with her hair, which in the wrong roles has made her seem like somewhat of a blank slate.  But in the hands of the right filmmaker, she can be mesmerizing to watch, and such is the case with Personal Shopper.  Olivier Assayas directed her to acclaim in their first collaboration Clouds of Sils Maria, and now the filmmaker has guided her to deliver one of the best and most nakedly emotional performances of her career.  Appearing in almost every scene, Kristen Stewart becomes a guiding force for the audience, making us feel her grief, fear and moments of questioning, taking us on the character’s emotional journey right along with her.

The film is impressively able to draw a good deal of suspense out of the texting conversations, drumming up tension and intrigue in the little moments between Maureen hearing the new message sound, reading the words on screen and then crafting her response, trying to figure out who is contacting her.  Texting onscreen can too often feel like a gimmick, but here it’s used in a way that shows its vitality to modern communication, and both the dangers and loneliness that can come from only interacting with someone through a device.  The film also brilliantly utilizes those three little dots that show someone is in the midst of responding, embracing the inherent suspense that seeing them offers.

But Personal Shopper is equally good at crafting classic sequences of suspense that recall the work of Alfred Hitchcock, like when Maureen is navigating an old house alone at night, and keeps being startled by sounds of doors opening and taps turning on.  It’s this mix of the classic and the modern, which itself feels like it exists between two worlds, that allows Personal Shopper to be both a good old fashioned ghost story, and a modern study of isolation at the fringes of an affluent celebrity world where people spend more time looking at phones than they do each other’s faces.

The film asks us to ponder questions of life after death and if the spirit world is real, and it’s all the more powerful for not giving us concrete answers.  The film keeps up this compelling guessing game for its entire running time, constantly leaving us questioning if what we are watching is supernatural horror or psychological thriller, whether it’s a ghost story or something more sinister.  What Personal Shopper offers is a haunting look at grief and loss that is hard to shake afterwards.

Personal Shopper is now available on iTunes, and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 10, 2017 6:41 am

    This movie actually confirms that in a right role she can act.


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