By using text messages as a source of terror that morphs into eroticism, Personal Shopper acknowledges and subverts horror traditions.
This is an excerpt of the essay which appears in our case study on Personal Shopper in the ebook Beyond Empowertainment: Feminist Horror and The Struggle for Female Agency, which is available for purchase here.
The message comes from an unknown number: “I know you.” As Maureen (Kristen Stewart) — a medium who is grieving over the recent death of her brother, Lewis — goes through Paris transit security, the messenger continues: “And you know me…You’re off to London.” When Maureen responds with her own text, demanding that the messenger reveal her or his identity, the answer is teasingly ambiguous: “Have a guess.”
So begins Personal Shopper’s 20-minute centerpiece: while commuting from Paris to London and back, Maureen engages in a series of uneasy SMS exchanges with this mysterious, ghost-like texter. Writer-director Olivier Assayas shoots this scene from Maureen’s perspective, often framing and editing in a quick shot-reverse shot style that gives equal space to the messages and Maureen’s reactions. By maintaining our intimate proximity with Maureen, Assayas achieves central focus on her affective responses.
Want to read the rest of the interview? Order a copy of our ebook on feminist horror beyond empowertainment here.