With his latest film, Personal Shopper writer/director Olivier Assayas uses the supernatural horror medium as a way of externalising his lead character’s anxieties. This makes for an occasionally perplexing film but also an intriguing and genuinely spooky one.
Kristen Stewart is Maureen, the eponymous shopper who works as a personal assistant to famous French fashion designer, Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). An aspiring artist, Maureen’s life is consumed with the mind-numbing task of selecting clothes for her boss’s appearances at fashion galas and celebrity functions. Maureen is also obsessed with making contact with her late brother Lewis whose spirit she believes inhabits his former fiancées ancient creaking house. Her investigations into the spirit world seem, however, to unleash something sinister.
Assayas constructs some genuinely creepy scenes of what appear to be ghostly activity. Thankfully, unlike a typical Hollywood director, he maintains a subtle approach that doesn’t over-do the scares or rely on outrageously silly cgi. A strange scratching sound, a barely detectable ectoplasmic presence or a sudden thump are much more effective than the computer-enhanced pyrotechnics and lumbering monsters to which we’re subjected in many Hollywood horror films.
Assayas infuses Maureen’s ghostly encounters with a sense of ambiguity as we’re left wondering, how much is real and how much is occurring in her mind. Fortunately, while the parallels between Maureen’s life and the ghost world are obvious they are not delivered with a sledge hammer. Noticeably, the other people in her life are fleeting presences much like the ghost she encounters, she only sees her boyfriend Gary (Ty Olwin) via Skype and she rarely speaks to her demanding boss Kyra face-to-face.
The film is built around Stewart who appears in nearly every scene. She’s a convincingly troubled figure but hardly a sympathetic one and her often contemptuous manner may irritate some viewers.
Shifting from spook story to straightforward personal drama to Argento-style thriller, the film makes some unusual gear changes but Assayas, for the most part, prevents them from being too jarring. Aided by Yorick Le Saux’s atmospheric cinematography he creates a palpable sense of menace and psychological intrigue.
Even if the plot threads don’t always tie together this is a film that will lurk in audiences’ memories for some time.
Nick’s rating: ***1/2
Genre: Horror/ thriller.
Director(s): Oliver Assayas.
Release date: 13th April 2017.
Running time: 105 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
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