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‘Personal Shopper’ Offers a Twist on the Traditional Ghost Story

I read an article a few months ago about the less than flattering premiere of Personal Shopper at the Cannes Film Festival, whereby audience members apparently stood up and booed the film as the credits started rolling. So, naturally, I had to go see it when it finally premiered in theaters this weekend. Written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Olivier Assayas, the man that introduced the world to the unrealized talent of Twilight-alum Kristen Stewart with his 2014 drama Clouds of Sils Maria, to which Stewart won the prestigious César award, commonly known as “The French Oscar”. Assayas and Stewart’s second teaming is a more unusual, nuanced affair, with this weird, spine-tingling workplace mystery masquerading as a ghost film.

Stewart plays Maureen, a downcast loner/Paris-based personal shopper to Kyra (Played by Von Waldstatten), a fashion it-girl of sorts. For her job, Maureen drives from one atelier to the other, buying thousands of dollars worth of dresses and handbags that she claims her employer will probably never wear. However, it isn’t through this location and narrative that the film’s main story takes place, but in a large, barely furnished house in the middle of the woods somewhere in Europe, belonging to Maureen’s “medium” brother Lewis, who’d recently passed of a heart attack. We soon learn that Maureen and Lewis made a pact that whoever died first would send a form of sign from the other side, and it is through that revelation that the suspenseful tone of the film is set.

The ghost story narrative of the film plays as a form of a character study of Maureen, shedding light on the emotional grief and self-delusion that accompanies losing a loved one. Stewart wonderfully adheres to her character’s tendencies. Maureen is sporadic as she deals with the dull aftermath of her brother’s passing. Constantly on the move, she seems to be in search of balance in the fast-paced world to which she belongs. There’s something about Stewart’s performance style that is just very interesting to watch. She doesn’t completely disappear into the characters that she plays, but that’s part of her beauty as a performer. It’s like watching your awkward best friend in a movie, tackling life situations that you know aren’t real, but that you watch with the utmost of curiosity, anxious to see what they can do with the role.

I wouldn’t necessarily describe Personal Shopper as a scary film, but more of a film about fear in and within itself, and the emotional response that people experience to it, exploring the idea of rationality when faced with situations that rid us of our best judgement. The film begs you to ask the question as to what exactly constitutes a horror film. It looks and feels like a thriller, but doesn’t necessarily play out like one. Assayas creates a truly nuanced, poised ghost narrative. I felt like I was watching an 80’s Brian De’Palma art-house thriller infused with a mid-2000s Gus Van Sant mystery, which, if you know me at all, is just my cup of tea. This is not the kind of movie that wraps things up in a nice little bow before the credits roll. You have to have the patience and the right mindset for Personal Shopper; all 1:45 minutes of it.

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