If anything can be taken away from the reviews, Underwater sounds like an awesome gem. The combination of chilling monsters and claustrophobic setting make for an excellent blend that’ll keep horror fans nerved up. But along with all these spooky things to adore, there is another reason to go see Underwater – Kristen Stewart.

Stewart has proven herself capable of portraying a variety of characters, and it’s awesome to see her return to the horror genre. I say “return” because there is a previous film of hers that also takes place in the world of horror (just a much different kind compared to Underwater). 

2016 saw the release of Personal Shopper, a film written and directed by Olivier Assayas, who also wrote and directed Clouds of Sils Maria, another film that starred Stewart. A couple years ago, I came across a tweet where Guillermo del Toro mentioned that Personal Shopper was a film he enjoyed (so of course I checked it out).

I knew very little coming into the film – but by the time it ended, I was in awe. Personal Shopper proved to be a fascinating work of tension and emotion. With Underwater out now, I wanted to write about Stewart’s performance in Personal Shopper. Stewart’s acting not only fuels the film’s air of mystery, but it also works to heighten its existential and emotional horror.

Please note – there will be spoilers for Personal Shopper moving forward.

In the film, Stewart plays Maureen, a young woman living in Paris who works as a personal shopper for a prominent fashion model. Maureen can’t stand her job and yearns to leave it – but she can’t leave Paris right away. The film opens on Maureen arriving to a house; not much is known about what this place is or who it belongs to, but it appears to be abandoned. However, it doesn’t take long for the context behind this house to be revealed.

Maureen and her twin brother Lewis were interested in spiritualism and thought of themselves as mediums; for those unaware, spiritualism is a religious movement where people believe that the spirits of the dead exist and strive to communicate with them. The viewer discovers that Lewis has passed away and that the house Maureen visits is his. In a conversation early on in the film, Maureen shares with another character how her and Lewis discussed that, depending on whoever passed away first, the other would look for a sign that they had moved on. She returns to the house for another night where she comes across an aggressive spirit; from there on in the film, Maureen begins to receive eerie texts messages, each looking to learn more about her thoughts and personal details. 

With the exception of the angry spirit encounter and one gruesome scene later on, much of Personal Shopper does not play out to any scenes of heavy violence or explicit shock – instead, it emphasizes emotion and atmosphere. Rather than catch the viewer by surprise with jump scares, it works to establish a mood that crawls under the skin. 

Personal Shopper is a ghost story, and like many of the films about ghosts that have come before it, it excels at being a story about coping with loss and grief. For though the film delivers upon gloomy tones and moments of tension, the primary driving force in emotion is that of Stewart.

Maureen carries a tremendous weight within her – this emotional tug-o-war to move on, yet afraid to let go. Through her visits to Lewis’ house, as well as her interactions with the mysterious text messages, the audience comes to understand just how much Lewis means to her. Other than the film’s latter half where there is more suspense, Maureen moves through life with desperation and ache. These feelings become more apparent when she is in Lewis’ home; as she sits in different rooms and walks about the halls, she strives to find her brother, to feel among him again. 

Personal Shopper is what I like to consider “emotional horror”; of course most horror has some level of emotion woven throughout, but to me, “emotional horror” works to elevate emotional states to that of existential unease, potentially encouraging introspection from the viewer. In many ways, especially for those who have lost a loved one, Maureen’s story comes across as relatable; we see time and time again various examples of those who want to know that their loved ones who have passed away are happy, or want to have some form of communication with them.

For Maureen, desperation and heartache drives her to find Lewis. But for all her knowledge and abilities as a medium, she cannot find it in her to settle and move on. In a scene where she is in his house, right before the angry spirit encounter, she witnesses several water pipes turn on; with her being the only living being in the house, one might assume this is enough for her to accept as a sign – but it isn’t. When she sees this, she ends up saying she needs to see more to truly believe it is him. 

This notion of her needing more is why she ends up feeding into the mysterious texts messages; she cannot tell if these messages are coming from a living person, or if they are messages from the other side; for her sake, though, she answers them, acknowledging how pervasive the questions are. Providing an air of curiosity into each reply, her answers are open and revealing to this unknown being.

While the text message scenes do serve to add to the film’s suspense elements, they also serve to emphasize Maureen’s want to connect with someone – even to express the parts of her she represses. Her spiritual knowledge is not enough to rid the pain of losing someone she deeply loves. Whereas Stewart has played reserved characters in the past, her performance as Maureen makes for the film’s core exploration of grief; her somber, at times distant personality, work to express a great deal of her internal conflict. 

Unlike the charm and humor found in her past roles, Personal Shopper represents one of Kristen Stewart’s most moving performances. She is an actor of nuance, conveying depth to her characters through subtle physical and vocal mannerisms. Throughout Personal Shopper, Stewart isn’t just presenting emotion to the audience, she is wearing it – she embraces a universal desire to find solace in the unknown.

I’m glad I discovered Personal Shopper; it’s easily one of my favorite films of the past decade, and one of the most interesting ghost stories I’ve seen in a long time. Along with absolutely checking out Personal Shopper (currently streaming on Netflix), I hope folks check out Underwater; with its exhilarating premise, I personally look forward to seeing Kristen Stewart face-off against some underwater monsters. As she continues to grow as an actor and further explore her craft, I would be interested in seeing Stewart take on more roles in the horror genre.





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Author : Michael Pementel

Publish date : 2020-01-14 15:34:58