Stars: Kristen Stewart, Nora Von Waltstätten, Lars Eidinger
Director: Olivier Assayas
Until the inevitable Casper reboot, ghost movies aren’t quite as big as they used to be. I don’t know if it’s to do with western society becoming more secular and materialistic that has ended a sort of fascination with these other-worldly spirits, but French art-house writer-director Olivier Assayas is bringing back ghosts as a serious topic to explore in his latest film, Personal Shopper, which is mixed with Assayas’ usual portrayal of high class society.
The titular personal shopper is Maureen (Kristen Stewart) who works for supermodel/designer Kyra (Nora Von Waltstätten) whom she rarely ever sees: Maureen buys her clothes, delivers them to her house, and runs several other errands for her, but they rarely ever come into contact. Although Maureen hates her lavish job, she seems more focused on using her talents as a medium to contact the spirit of her late twin brother, Lewis, who died of a heart condition that Maureen also has.
Starting off at the house the siblings grew up in, and that Lewis died in, the film gets straight into the ghost-hunting as Maureen wonders the decrepit house at night, trying quietly to summon Lewis’ spirit. This is the first of many scenes that almost tip Personal Shopper into the horror genre, as there is a palpable tension that is built on the film’s realistic foundation, and this terror permeates all the other scenes of Maureen’s pedestrian every-day business with her job. Things do get even creepier for her when she starts getting text messages from an unknown contact who seems to know her every move, which puts her in distress a first, but she soon opens up to fear and how it can be channelled into something positive and constructive for herself.
Assayas shows skill in how he conveys not just the metropolitan landscape of Europe (Paris and London specifically), but also the landscape of online media and mobile technology. Given the suggestion that it’s the ghost of Lewis that is messaging Maureen, Assayas really shows how the mysteriousness and elusiveness of text messaging can be amplified when a ghost story is involved.
This is an effective film, one that has the power to chill to the bone. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, you’ll still admire the seriousness that Personal Shopper takes towards the supernatural. It’s certainly more a film about horror than an actual horror film, but it still may be the scariest film PIAF has to offer this year.
Personal Shopper plays at UWA Somerville from Mon 20-Sun 26 Feb, 8pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tues 28 Feb-Thur 2 March & Sat 4-Sun 5 Mar, 8pm. For more info head to perthfestival.com.au.