Kristen Stewart’s come a long way since Twilight.
It’s hard to command a thriller, let alone a psychological horror that rises and falls on its central performance, in this case that of personal shopper Maureen (Stewart). Beyond this film being set in Paris, revolving in part around said profession and featuring the prolific actress, there’s not much that should be disclosed prior to viewing except a warning to those who don’t take too well to horror – this is not for you.
Stewart is on camera for more than the bulk of the film, the catalyst for any number of things that go bump in the night and what otherwise could have been a wholly lackadaisical, uneventful affair. Remarking at a tap early on in the proceedings, Stewart turns one of many instances of what could very well have invited derision into much more emphatic moments, largely harbouring the picture and so many of her scenes in a decidedly eerie tone. Forced to work with little on occasion as traditional fright-fare is stripped down to its most rudimentary level, Stewart, working consummately with Director Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria), manages to steer Personal Shopper in a very disconcerting, disturbing direction.
The scares, for the most part, are refreshingly simple and when they occur as such pack the biggest punch. An ongoing text message conversation of all things, at first off-putting, quickly becomes the most apt vehicle in the film for conveying spasms of horror. Not a horror film entire, Personal Shopper is more of a thought-piece with elements of horror and mysticism, the film playing host to any number of familiar ideas and storylines.
Too in this respect, the greatest neglect of this film is that it tries to be a heft of things in a very short space of time, rather than focusing on a finite number of its curious ideas. It can’t quite decide whether it’s a haunted house epic, or a stalking thriller or a treatise on death, adding in an entirely unnecessary international expedition to a distant land to boot. While themes of indeterminate identity play a large role in tying the varied strands together, the numerous ideations in this effort are all a bit of a mess.
Despite this, Personal Shopper is welcomely ambiguous, with several elements open to wildly different interpretations which will keep you guessing and for some may even merit a repeat viewing to tease it all out. Unsettling throughout, Assayas’ thriller will promote no end of lively discussion, debate and more than its fair share of shocks.
Personal Shopper is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival on Friday 17 June and Monday 20 June, for tickets head to the Festival website