French director Olivier Assayas has used all his talents to bring to our screens a clever piece of supernatural horror.
Kristen Stewart, best known for her Twilight Saga roles, takes the lead part of Maureen Cartwright in Personal Shopper, and this gives the movie added shine and slickness.
(Stewart) is outstanding in her performance as Maureen. Admirable in fact, especially when: the plot is focused solely on her character. In this movie she’s proved her versatility – cemented it to be precise.
The setting begins when Maureen arrives at a big empty house to engage and orchestrate a ghostly séance, as she is a psychic medium. And that’s the precursor for the ethereal aspect to manifest in Personal Shopper.
Onwards from that scene, and Maureen spends her nights and days travelling, or you could say moonlighting around trendy Paris on her Vespa Scooter, doing exactly as the movie states, being a personal shopper. It seems a wonderful job to have, with lots of perks that many people can only dream of, but yet, Maureen hates the job.
In spite of this she completes her work efficiently for her stern boss, Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). Kyra is a somewhat unsympathetic individual, representing the offensive culture of celebrity perfectly, and Maureen is frequently on the receiving end of her boss’s disdain.
There is a nod to the ‘The Fox Sisters’ in the movie – the architects of modern day Spiritualism, and also the use of table-turning, a device fashioned to contact ghosts. And this aspect ties in nicely with the other part of the plot – the sudden death of Maureen’s twin brother, Lewis, who was also a medium. Lewis did promise though, that he would show a ‘sign’ to his sister that he was trying to contact her from the Other Side.
With the death of your twin they say a spiritual connection can occur – that can never be broken bodily. And thus, as Lewis promised, Maureen’s first contacts with her dead brother is through her mobile phone, which starts to receive messages, like some kind of spirit communication device, but are these messages really from Lewis?
Maureen’s talents as a psychic medium are tested, and a journey begins into a world of sinister, gloomy realism, as she draws ghosts and mischievous spirits lurking in the shadows and a dreamscape world of haunted houses and hotel rooms towards her. Perhaps they exist in a human-like reality inside our world. Or only exist in Maureen’s mind. Could Maureen’s psychic abilities be the magnet for these unpleasant and violent paranormal manifestations to appear, sometimes behind corners, in dreary rooms, on train carriages, and dimly lit corridors?
Assayas emphasises this and directs with dynamism throughout Personal Shopper, making the camera capture the eeriness and shadowy aspects perfectly. The exterior shots of night-time Paris are eye-catching and used extensively, and there are a few shots of the Eurostar train for good measure.
In addition, Assayas uses various techniques to create a building tension, a seminal impact of being afraid and stalked, especially for Stewart’s character. And other cast members are skilfully used, enhancing the suspense, shock, and fear factor.
Personal Shopper is bleak and dark. Going to a place in the mind where you don’t want to go. It tests your stamina, your staying power and your perception about fear. I was on edge during periods of this movie, at breaking point to be precise, and I found it hard going. But that’s the point of it, it’s there to distort reality and attack your weak spot. The forces of the unknown and the unexplained, be they dead or alive are everywhere in this movie, reaching out to with menace, ready to drag you into their twisted realm.
Social-media is a feature that Assayas’ uses intentionally within the story and probably to make a point. I don’t think I’ll ever look upon my mobile phone with the same enthusiasm again. The cause for this, the way it’s manipulated by Assayas to install panic with the ‘ghostly contacts’ between Maureen and Lewis. Maybe Assayas is asking a ‘question’ about the social-media age, which surrounds us all, as it can at times make us disappear into a world of self-absorbing delusion.
Consequently, why do people text each other in these troubled times to the point of obsession? Personally, I don’t understand why we spend large parts of our lives engaging in it.
Personal Shopper is well executed and impressive, and Assayas has managed to keep the essence of the movie focused – assisted by magnificent Kristen Stewart. It has an unholy cinematic rage within its shell and ticks all the right boxes for what a great, independent paranormal horror movie should be.