Thriller is a difficult genre to get right. For starters, there are so many different forms of thrillers, which can range from the intense suspense created in the many great films of Alfred Hitchcock, to the supernatural horror in the Insidious franchise. And then there is Personal Shopper, which screened at this year's Glasgow Film Festival - and the verdict is in.

Personal Shopper almost feels as though it is trying to be two films at once, on one hand, it wants to have its character-driven storyline with Maureen’s (Kristen Stewart) boss Kyra (Nora von Waldst├Ątten) and her ‘boyfriend’ Ingo (Lars Eidinger), but on the other hand it tries to force in a supernatural plot, which leaves this film feeling disjointed and convoluted, which is probably my main flaw with the film overall. The story opens with Maureen arriving at the house in which her brother has recently passed away, with her brother’s widow (Sigrid Bouaziz), where she attempts to contact the spirit of her brother, because, similarly to him, she is a medium. Maureen is forced by her promise to her brother to remain in Paris until he can contact her from beyond the grave, because he was a firm believer in life after death. This has led her to take up a job as a, you guessed it, Personal Shopper, for Kyra.
The film centres around Maureen’s conflicting feelings about her stay in Paris, she hates her job and boss, and desires to leave; however, she feels compelled to stay and uphold her promise to her brother. And from the premise alone I was excited. The film promises to delve into the supernatural, and spend time building on the idea of ghosts and spirits existing in the world that we know, to the background of the fashion industry in Paris. But the film never delivers on this promise. It tries to pull itself in so many different directions in order to fulfil on its potential, which just leaves it feeling contrived and unfocused. But the problem lies in this aspect alone. It just doesn’t feel like it’s trying to fill in the stories. The film is only an hour and forty-five minutes long, but it feels so much longer. When I was sitting in the screening I kept thinking “oh, this is how it’s going to end” but then it kept going. And that’s not to say that there aren’t good points. Perhaps that’s the most damning feature of this film: it feels forced. None of the dialogue feels natural or believable, except when Kristen Stewart is by herself, and the plots just don’t seem to mix.

I am a big fan of thrillers, the suspense that it creates leaves me on the edge of my seat, but I could do without the horror version of this that has started to appear in recent years. Thankfully, Personal Shopper takes great care to never lean in to this, and there is only a single jump scare in the entire thing. Instead it builds its tension through careful use of sounds and visuals to make the viewer feel the immediacy and the fear of the central character, without using cheap scares. And when it utilises its tension, it executes it to perfection, for example, when Maureen is doing something as innocuous texting, it holds your attention. It makes you want to look away out of fear, but you can’t because you can’t miss what’s going to happen next. The film also uses visuals very well; you can tell when it’s trying to be “artsy”, but it leaves enough unexplained to allow the viewer to fit the pieces together, whilst also leaving enough ambiguity to open it up to interpretation. But this is a double-edged sword. When it tries to be “artsy”, it does it so well, but at certain points it also takes it too far. It tries to be artistic, and intellectual, but comes off as pretentious. The ending is particularly guilty of this faux pas. As I’ve already mentioned, the film seems to have several points at which it could have ended and left me with a better opinion, but the ending we’re given is just no good. It tries to wrap up all the plot holes, but then doesn’t bother. It harkens back to an early point in the movie that was beautifully created, but rather than adding to the film overall it just detracts from that earlier scene.


Personal Shopper is beautifully created, with impressive visuals and superbly orchestrated tension, but unfortunately, it's all rather few and far between to stand out from a convoluted and contrived premise.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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