So we’ve finally caught up with ourselves, not just with a film that came out this year (in the U.S.), but also one that was released by Criterion about a week ago. Personal Shopper was one of those Shocktober films that I wasn’t really expecting to be much of a horror movie, since it comes from a contemporary artsy French director, Olivier Assayas, who I’d heard of, but never knew to be much of a genre director. Surprisingly, Personal Shopper does have its share of thrills and shrills, but while also retaining the air of a contemplative character study.
The character whose eyes we see basically the whole film through is Maureen (Kristen Stewart), an American living in Paris, who works as a personal shopper for a rarely seen woman named Kyra. And since Kyra is far too busy being, I don’t know, a celebrity (she seems to have ties to the fashion world), Maureen spends her days shopping and fitting into Kyra’s clothes since she doesn’t have time to. Meanwhile, Maureen also makes the occasional visit to the cottage that used to be inhabited by her deceased brother, hoping to contact his ghost.
Early on, Maureen actually sees a ghost-like figure ectoplasming all over the place, though the ghost doesn’t appear to be her bro. Still, she begins to feel as if her brother’s spirit is following her, as spooky stuff keeps happening to her, while she also becomes more persistent about finding closure. Then, all of the sudden, Maureen begins getting mysterious texts from an unknown phone number, asking her very coy questions, that should probably just creep her out. And yet, she can’t help but feel the urge to be lead on by the phantom texter’s cat-and-mouse game, with the hopes of finding out who’s on the other line.
When it comes to movies, I feel like whenever there’s an idea that hasn’t yet been exploited by filmmakers, there are usually multiple films that will exploit this certain unexplored idea around the same time. Because weirdly enough, Personal Shopper was not the only film to come out this year that indulged the idea of a more meditative, thoughtful kind of ghost story, since this summer also saw the release of the excellent A Ghost Story. However, Personal Shopper takes a pretty different approach storytelling-wise, since it obviously isn’t told from the ghost’s point of view. And, as is often the case with us living in the Earthly realm, we usually have other things on our minds than ghosts, even if we happen to find ourselves being haunted by one.
Namely, the idea of identity seems to be one that is constantly on Maureen’s mind. When the phantom texter asks her if she wants to be someone else, she answers “yes”, but struggles to answer who it is exactly what she wants to be. This, of course, is reinforced by her job as someone who literally walks around in someone else’s clothes, but without any of the glamour or confidence of that particular person. Then there’s the fact that Maureen is hung up on this death in her past that won’t let her move on, so she’s left to ride her moped through the streets of Paris aimlessly, like she’s in some kind of existential limbo.
That said, despite the fact that Personal Shopper can have kind of a lilting quality to it, at times it also functions as a legitimately taught thriller. There’s a grisly murder at the heart of its climax, while the creeping paranoia of Maureen’s interactions with an unknown texter that may be of this world and may not, is legitimately tense. But also, the film also gives you enough room to breath, and enough room to contemplate what’s real and what isn’t, and what’s just an aimless ghost in the night.
Welp, that about does it for me in regards to this year’s Shocktober. It was fun once again diving back into the always interesting vaults of Criterion, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit relieved we won’t be doing this many movie reviews in one month until next summer. But of course, we still have one day left in October, in which filmmaking’s greatest horrors will surely be on full display…