If you are looking for a ghost story with a difference, then writer/director Olivier Assayas’ (Carlos) latest genre-bender Personal Shopper may be just what you are after. The film initially plods along, with Kristen Stewart (Twilight) leading in an odd combination of a haunted house type story and an insight into the world of Parisian socialites and celebrities. But what gives Personal Shopper an edge is how the movie morphs into a gripping suspense/thriller in its latter half, managing to creep me out more than any other horror that I’ve seen in quite some time. Quite the feat!
Maureen (Stewart) is a young woman who thinks that she is gifted as a medium to the spirit world. She has come to Paris to try to communicate with her twin brother who has recently died in a mansion and funds this endeavour by working as a personal shopper for a famous actress. Increasingly disillusioned with her life, Maureen starts to see strange signs in the mansion that may be her brother, while also receiving mysterious texts that seem to tell her every move. As both of these occurrences start to intensify, Maureen’s world begins to move into unchartered territory that increasingly unsettles her, creating situations that could jeopardise her job, and potentially put her life in danger.
Personal Shopper is one of those films that I suspect will frustrate many viewers for the first half, at least, as the haunted house side of it is a little lame with its effects, the backstory of Stewart’s character isn’t particularly interesting and her job as a personal shopper and the interactions with her actress boss are nothing particularly notable. But what the filmmaker does, with expert timing, is slowly ratchet the tension up to a point that eventually breaks into some seriously creepy business in the second half. Stewart’s acting is spot on throughout but she really comes into her own when the films intentional monotony starts to waver and the sinister edge of the story takes grip. Assayas seems to have methodically and intelligently planned the film out and it weirdly works as a whole, although the bravely ambiguous finale leaves you with as many questions as it does answers.
Oliver Assayas has made a ballsy move into the horror genre that could never be deemed unoriginal and Kristen Stewart’s performance fits perfectly into the slow burning plot. There is no doubt that the monotonous tone will grate on many viewers who have no patience for her day-to-day routine but if you are willing to persevere with Personal Shopper, then you may be pleasantly surprised by this intelligent and deftly crafted genre-bender. It packs a satisfying punch that will linger with you long after. Kev Lovski
Personal Shopper is screening at Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast until Thursday 23rd March.