Personal Shopper, in the simplest terms, finds the horror in the Parisian fashion scene. While the price tags cause some repulsion, Personal Shopper is never so superficial. The French capital might be the setting, and the paranormal may be the hook, but these are just tools that Olivier Assayas has used to craft a small, yet perfectly formed dissection of grief and mourning.
It has been three months since Lewis died and Maureen, his twin sister (Kristen Stewart), is still coming to terms with his death. Both were mediums, who agreed that whichever sibling died first would send the other a sign from the afterlife. Due to a heart malformation common to both, this was Lewis. Maureen stands still, anxiously waiting, spending her time clothes-picking for her hard-to-please client, Kyra. Assayas surrounds this turmoil with sequins and shimmers, grinding Stewart down with each exhausting boutique trip.
The clothes Maureen flicks through are ironically out of reach. They represent someone she could be, a life she could be living. As she tests a pair of hideously expensive heels, something she is forbidden to do, the mood changes. A collective breath is held as she strides across the room, her strength submerging us in an ambiguous sexual pressure. Maureen grows, and much more than the five physical inches. Such scenes are compelling, and could only have been handled by someone with the natural ability of Kristen Stewart.
Personal Shopper is a true single-hander. Maureen is the camera’s only attention, only focusing on things directly relating to her frame of mind. In Stewart, Assayas plucked a hypnotic lead out of a sea of more ‘model’ leads, and the camera is only the first to be so hypnotised by her. Though Maureen can sense spirits around her, it almost feels strange that Stewart cannot sense the fixated camera boring into her soul.
The camera’s fly-on-the-wall, singular focus creates tension simply, without exaggeration. Each tempered development surrounds Maureen like a cape, shrouding scares until almost too late. There are no scares for their own sake, as this genre may tempt, but Personal Shopper is frightening when necessary. Stewart’s shrew-like defence mechanism, in the face of one such scare, is distressingly good; her body contorted into a tightly-coiled sphere, foot thumping like a terrified bunny.
Assayas’ tempting revelations let us make our own sense about the film’s paranormal elements. Manifestations or malevolent beings, it matters not. All that does is how it speaks to you and how often your pulse races. In my case, Personal Shopper almost broke my FitBit.
Images courtesy of Cut Print Film and Variety respectively.