The triumph of Kristen Stewart’s highly-touted performance in Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper is both a result of great casting and Stewart’s pressure situation for having the film’s entire plot be dependent on her character’s emotional reactions to situations. Stewart plays Maureen, a “personal shopper” for an uppity French designer. Her monotonous job involves going from store to store picking out outfits that her boss wants for her next runway show. However the film’s meat comes from Maureen’s real reason for being in Paris… finding her dead brother’s ghost. Olivier blends the melodrama of familial relations with a supernatural thriller but the film maintains a fully character-centric focus. The plot chugs only as fast and as slow as Maureen wants it to, making Stewart the center of attention in virtually every moment of the film. This speed conditioning is manifested quite literally in the long sequence in which Maureen receives anonymous texts in riddles. Throughout these sequences our perception of “time” in the movie is dictated completely by the pace at which Maureen responds to the texts. Our emotions are dictated by her’s facial response to each one she receives and the wait-time between the anonymous texter’s responses. Assayas’s deliberate subversion of American horror film tropes also play directly into Stewart’s ability to act. Ghosts, sex, and murder are all siphoned through Stewart and the camera concentrates on her personal encounters with these instances more than the instances themselves.
The ending sequences concludes with a line uttered by Maureen which explains Assayas’s entire approach to the film as a pedestal for Stewart and her character: “Is it you… or is it just me”. The phantom thumps a “yes”.
Horror is a genre of movie which is becoming thoroughly predictable isn’t it? Every commercial for the next horror movie that comes on TV shows a bunch of weird shit jumping out with a loud thumping noise that’s supposed to make you jump, but in all honesty it’s easy to tell when things are about to pop out at you. Build-up is conventional, creaking noises, slowly opening doors, footsteps, someone taking a piss in dead silence… all of this and them BAM, scary motherfucking demon girl pops up and all you can do is roll your eyes.
For the people who think I’m dismissing The Conjuring, I’m not… don’t get me wrong, James Wan knows how to make a horror movie. He made Saw for crying out loud, which is a fantastic horror movie (which was thus systematically ruined by all its sequels). But you know what’s really scary? You know what really terrifies the piss out of people? Cults. People who are obsessed and brainwashed over an ideology. Pedophiles scare the piss out of people. Rapists scare the piss out of people. The reason for this is because we KNOW they exist in our world. Demons and ghosts and elaborate sociopaths are mostly a figment of imagination… but real monsters, the humans, those are fucking TERRIFYING.
This is why Ben Wheatley’s Kill List is so far, the best horror movie of the 21st century. It’s a movie consumed by the vilest of people and their complete irreverence to others opinions of them. It’s consumed by the psychology of dealing with torment and excruciating evil that one could not imagine a human being is capable of, but is faced with the reality that it happens every day. Kill List is a movie about 2 hitmen assigned to… well, kill some people who on a “list”. But this movie incorporates so much of horror’s tropes or creepy music, tracking shots, and gory violence and combines it with what exists in our own society. The main character’s psychological meltdown is very similar to our own when faced with articles about topics which “disgust us”, events which make us “hate the world”. These are the things that truly awful and truly SCARY because we live in them.
Oh, and Kill List is a fantastic story too. Completely unexpected in its trajectory, you never know what’s going to happen next or even why certain things are happening. The movie is shrouded in mystery and should be as it reveals things which are hidden in our own society, but we don’t notice because we are too scared to look.
Point is, as Halloween weekend is here, and you need a freaking GREAT horror movie to watch with people, make is Ben Wheatley’s KILL LIST. And get ready to have your mind and senses shredded in a blender.