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Personal Shopper review: Stewart and Assayas re-team for a paranoid thriller…or is it a haunted house film…or both?

Personal Shopper review by Luke Ryan Baldock, March 2017.

Personal Shopper review
Personal Shopper review

Personal Shopper marries the perfect occupation for its protagonist with the overall themes and attitude of this complex emotional exploration. Kristen Stewart re-teams with Clouds of Sils Maria director Olivier Assayas, for this psychological thriller…or is that ghostly horror? It’s kind of both, but awkwardly never at the same time. Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, a personal shopper for famous model Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten). As you can imagine, Maureen finds herself making trips around Paris to pick up clothes, and even at one point must travel all the way to London for a couple of dresses. So when Maureen starts receiving ominous text messages, she is soon lured into a world where she questions herself, using the fear as a kind of drug. Such moments are wrought with tension, being both dangerous but thrilling for the audience. Maureen may push her luck at times, but you can understand her behaviour.

This isn’t the only plot we have though, as Maureen is also revisiting the house where her twin brother died in an attempt to connect with his spirit as they were both both mediums. These sequences are more traditional horror, with taps turning on and creaky floorboards. Surprisingly the film doesn’t leave much to the imagination though, as we are clearly shown a spectre of some kind very early on. The ambiguity comes in how and if, other than Maureen being at the centre, these two strands will connect and how. This narrative structure can be alarming at times, as it often feels as though you are watching two films featuring the same character that take place at the same time. But the jagged edges this leaves the film with are also what makes it so interesting.

Personal Shopper review
Personal Shopper review

Stewart is fantastic here, giving us her usual dry and subtle delivery, but with more ticks and nuances than usual. She never explodes, despite what she’s faced with, and that makes it all the easier to accept. She also perfect presents an almost empty canvas the film to work its magic with. Each event leaves its marks on the character, building her into somebody very interesting that usual horrors avoid. Being a personal shopper, and somebody struggling with the idea of an afterlife, while also being pursued in a game of cat and mouse, gives her plenty of conflict and contradictions to work with. She questions her career, but the excitement she needs in her life may very well be far too dangerous. Or perhaps there’s innocence in her unknown admirer’s texts, and it is someone wanting her to break free.

The themes of loneliness, the afterlife, and identity are perfectly served by the horror/thriller genre, and although they are few and far between, there are genuinely terrifying and unsettling moments. You won’t find any fast paced chases, or huge jump scares here, but instead a well crafted gradual build of suspense and danger.

Personal Shopper review
Personal Shopper review

Assayas has a lot of fun playing with genres and tone, grounding the film in an arthouse reality while simultaneously using genre conventions. It doesn’t always work or glue together, but it does culminate in a smart film that respects and evolves its lead. Almost a one woman show for Stewart – you’ll be amazed at how she can hold your attention by reacting to text messages for a sizable chunk of the film – the film teeters on the brink of losing its audience’s interest, but always pulls it back. Assayas also provides the script that respects its viewers enough to leave a bucket worth of discussion, without feeling the need to confuse and confound.

Personal Shopper review by Luke Ryan Baldock, March 2017.

Personal Shopper is released in UK cinemas on Friday 17th March, 2017.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall