By Nayeem Ehtesham (Dhaka, Bangladesh)
I just saw this movie called Personal Shopper, a movie I was looking forward to but not necessarily excited about. The reason I was looking forward to this movie was another movie by the same director called Clouds of Sils Maria, which was one of my favorite films of 2014 and also starred Kristen Stewart in a supporting role.
The main character of this movie is a personal shopper for a high profile actress. We learn that her twin brother died not so long ago and now she is waiting for her deceased brother to give her some sort of sign from the afterlife.
I was expecting to see a very weird horror movie. Instead, what I got is a psychological thrillerish drama and it’s pretty weird. The movie uses some horror elements but they are about as scary as a Scooby Doo episode. I take that the filmmakers used the horror sequences to make us familiar with the world they were trying to build rather than scare the hell out of us. I guess they are also intended as a misdirection while the actual story is told from under the surface.
This is not a horror movie. One can also disagree with its “thriller” label and rightfully so. What this movie is actually about is grief. As we follow our protagonist we learn that she hates her job, she hates her boss and she doesn’t even like the person she has become herself. We also learn that she is basically alone except a boyfriend living hundreds of miles away and a sister in law with whom she doesn’t seem to have any convincing chemistry. The only person she was intimate with was her deceased twin brother. Who very much shared his sister’s personality tropes and both of them believed that they were “mediums” for spirits to communicate from afterlife. So, this is a person we are not supposed to relate to. And this is where I think the filmmakers killed it with capturing the tone for the movie- the feeling of being isolated.
The loss of the only person who understood you can have a big impact. Whether or not the things Kristen Stewart’s character was watching or experiencing were real is another conversation. But I would like to think them as real. But the movie succeeds in telling the story from the unique perspective of a person in grief and frustration over her life. Her desire to prove the belief that she and her brother shared along with the desire to become a different person gives this story a refreshing dynamic.
Director Olivier Assayas took us on a ride inside the messed up head of Maureen, played remarkably by Kristen Stewart. As we see the world from her perspective we feel empathy for her character. And I believe that’s the kind of scare the filmmakers were going for in this movie, which is not getting scared directly but understanding someone who is scared. And this story is scary in its own right.
I really enjoyed Personal Shopper. It’s weird but it understands what it is.