[Victoria Film Festival 2017] Redefining the Ghost Story with Personal Shopper

12 Feb

mediaBy Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

This movie will get a wider release in the USA on March 10.

To delicately write and direct a ghost story often means understanding the underlying aspects of what makes this sub genre a delight to watch, if not read. Most stories are focused on an individual feeling isolated instead of terrorized and in some cases, the protagonist feels like a great weight is upon him or her. To be free means all of that is lifted.

The appeal of Olivier Assayas’ movie, Personal Shopper, is in how this subject is gently explored. He does a great job of making a film that is more of a thriller than a Woman in Black style spookfest. The heroine in this story, Maureen Cartwright (Kristen Stewart), does not like her job of being a fashion barista for celebrity-model Kyra (Nora Von Waldstätten) whom she rarely sees and fortunately (or not) she has a side job of being a medium. She can sense dead people and perhaps help them move on. But when she has her own dead weight of dealing with the death of her twin brother is more gifted, just what she’s looking for is actually closure. She is waiting for a sign from him.

Two stories are intertwined with this film. One is the day-to-day life of her looking for clothes at boutiques and the other is how to combat depression. Loneliness is tough, and Cartwright copes. Stewart sells this depressing fact very well, though I wonder if she can appear in other types of films to show off different sides of her acting personalities. I like to see her shake off that Twilight stigma. After deciding to sell the family home in France to friends, she has to contend with making sure it is clear before they can occupy it. She has a paranormal experience and is more scared of it (the best moment in this movie) than be cautiously optimistic to get that message in the bottle.

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This movie gets interesting when she starts receiving text messages from an unknown number. I was left wondering if they are from him or a stranger. When this person says he or she is near, there’s moments that’s not altogether terrifying nor suspect. The sense of this film being like a Hitchcock type of film is not quite there. The camera often lingers over Cartwright’s smartphone as she types to create the suspense, and while that’s as exciting as watching someone else play Pokemon GO. ignoring their surroundings (sarcasm intended), the anticipation for a response depends on Stewart selling the moment. She pulls it off, and we spend more time reading a screen — but I’m wondering if a change of POV can help the film that’s too deeply invested in figuring out Cartwright’s psyche?

When Assayas decides to do so, this film finally feels unsettling. There are later moments when the invisible is made visible which gave me chills. We never know who has been playing with Cartwright’s emotions and we never see that final moment of what she finally sees (or meet?). This film is as exciting as watching Robert Zemeckis’ 1997 movie Contact, where Dr. Ellie Arroway meets an entity taking the form of her deceased father. While no wormhole travel is not needed, this film does a better job at showing what Cartwright needs to do to escape her own feelings of guilt. Happiness is only a step away, and it’s not that hard to find it when that person is willing to accept change.

3½ Stars out of 5

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