‘Personal Shopper’ Has a Few Problems but Still Creates Palpable Dread (Review)
Directed by: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz
Any time that Kristen Stewart is cast in a lead role, I get a little nervous. While she’s had a few shining moments here and there (her work in the Runaways was actually rather brilliant, a perfect young Joan Jett if ever there was one… other than the real one, of course), she’s generally a very flat performer. She often lacks any serious emotion, and she seems to be brooding at all times in every film she’s been a part of. To call her a one-note actress may be underselling the truth. But the beauty of Personal Shopper is that her character is a monochromatic personality anyhow, outside of black, white and grey, there is no color or colorful responses that this character is supposed to emit. So, great casting call with Stewart, and kudos to the young lady for killing this role.
The story sometimes feels a little convoluted, and sometimes it feels just a tad aimless. It’s about Stewart’s character, Maureen, who lives with the very same congenital heart defect that killed her twin brother. Her connection with the deceased seems to be so powerful that these two are able to – to a degree – still communicate. Naturally that communication fuels Maureen, who wants to know more of her brother’s current existence and place in the cosmos. That all works fairly well, but there’re subplots that don’t fit comfortably into the flick, and the emphasis on the sequences that do seem to showcase a haunting of some sort are either way over-played (there’s some ugly CGI in the film) or operate on an almost undetectable level (there’s a great visuals scene toward the end of the picture that you’ll completely miss if your eyes aren’t scanning the TV regularly). It’s a strange mix.
Outside of a few shaky plot points and muddled details my other major complaint actually pertains to the technical execution of the film as a whole. I hate the lazy fade out, but I really, really hate it when the transition is off-timed with the story’s beats, and that seems to be a recurring error in the film. So much so, in fact, that it almost seems as though Olivier Assayas sets out to intentionally leave us feeling a hint off-kilter.
But, with those complaints out of the way, there really were a lot of things I liked about the film. There are some intense and edgier shots in the latter portions of the pic. There’s a compelling mystery that seems permanently affixed to everything Maureen does. But there’s an ambiguity to this mystery that effectively builds commendable tension, however, it does manage to stumble and sputter, as we don’t get a clear-cut resolution. But then there’s the picture’s final shot, which doesn’t really wrap things up with a nice, pretty little bow, instead, we’re left on an abstruse note, thinking we’ve got it all figured out, all while battling that true certainty to the extent that we find ourselves doubting our own self-made assessments. I can respect that clandestine angle, even if I don’t really love it.
Personal Shopper is more of a mystery than a horror film, but it is engaging, it does deliver a couple chilling sequences and it’s the kind of role that a limited performer like Kristen Stewart really needs to continue to pursue. This is a plot on the horror landscape that will allow Stewart to shine… and not in that nauseating Twilight shine kind of way.
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