By Chris Campo
Yep... This was a weird one. I go to the movies a lot. On average, 2-3 times a week. It's not common that a movie somehow releases with me literally never having heard of it. But, when looking up showtimes for another movie, I stumbled upon the poster for "Personal Shopper," and despite knowing nothing except the brief synopsis on the ticket ordering website, I gave it a shot. I should really go into movies this blind more often, as Personal Shopper was a film experience unlike any I have had in recent memory, and I left very pleasantly surprised. It may be too early to call, but this just may sneak in to my favourites of the year.
Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, who, as you may be able to guess, is a personal shopper in Paris. She works for a wildly famous model, Krya (Nora Von Waldstatten) shopping for her clothes, jewellery and meeting all the needs Krya doesn't have the time for. Sounds boring, right? Well, this also happens to be a horror movie. A ghost film, to be exact. By night, Maureen is a medium, spending her nights in the house her recently deceased brother died in, looking for signs that he's there with her. On top of that, she's receiving terrifying text messages from some who she believes to be her brother.
The film also deals with personal identity, working a job you hate, and the effects that grief has on one's personality and psyche. I call it a horror film, but it's not what comes to your mind when you think of the genre. It's certainly first and foremost a character study with heavy dramatic themes. The screenplay is quite original, shifting tones often, but never failing to feel coherent. Genuine surprises are to be had, but don't expect something you would find in a movie like Get Out. The writing here is more subtle or nuanced. Admittedly, I was not previously familiar with writer/director Oliver Assayas, but now, I look forward to future projects and plan on looking into his previous works, such as Clouds of Sils Maria (also starring Stewart).
You won't be jumping out of your seat or cheering, but it will have a lasting effect on you. Sometimes the film slows down and can be a tad bit dry, but it never lasts longer than a few moments. The film is a real slow burn, but it's time that's well invested. A good chunk, maybe even a whole third of the film, is literately just a phone screen, followed by Maureen's reaction and response to the texts. That may sound boring, but it's enticing. One of the most suspenseful scenes in the film is quite literally just Maureen reading text, so much so that I almost looked away from the screen. When you do see the ghosts, which the film wastes no time getting to, they're hauntingly yet beautifully shot. Some of the cooler looking ghosts in film recently.
Not so much for most horror movies, but essential for any character drama, is the central character. The main character here, Maureen, is a tragic, expertly written and performed character. Kristen Stewart has been an easy target to a lot, due to her turn as Bella Swan in the Twilight movies, but over the past few years she has proven herself to be one damn fine actress. Personal Shopper, however is her best performance to date. Her character deals with a lot, and interacts with many different people throughout the film. Never does Stewart loose sight of Maureen's traits and motivation. Like I said, she's quite the tragic character. Once you figure out certain aspects to her, it's pretty heartbreaking.
This is a bold film, too. You could get away with calling it weird. It follows no molds of any genre or style and it may be hard to follow. My only real criticism with the film is that it took awhile for me to get hooked. For the majority of the first act, I had no idea exactly what was going on. The film has layers that aren't peeled back for you, you have to use your brain and sometimes, have to come to your own conclusions. Once I was in though, I was in, all the way up until the finale, which is just as bold and original as the rest of the film. The ending may seem flat to some, but those invested in the story will find a lot more beyond what is (or isn't) shown.
Personal Shopper is a weird movie. A movie I literally did not know about until moments before I was seated, but I am glad I saw it. It's filled with great writing, directing and acting, as well as Kristen Stewart's best performance to date. This film has certainly put the writer/director on my personal radar. Try to check this movie out. It's a slow burn, but give it a chance and it will hook you. Hell, it might be one of your favourites so far this year. I will be thinking about it for some time.
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