Review: ‘Personal Shopper’ (2016)

A genre-defying masterpiece.

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Death is often about bodies. In accordance, Personal Shopper first shows us, medically, the body of our protagonist – a fundamentally weak body. Bodies are dressed, undressed, posed and brutalized. Nothing is left unchecked in the latest film from director Olivier Assayas and starring Kristen Stewart. Personal Shopper weaves together several distinct plot-lines into a singular, cohesive narrative exploring everything from our relationship with pretty clothes to the afterlife.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Personal Shopper is its refusal to be defined. Not quite a ghost story, not quite a fashion walkway – it thrills, it chills and it puzzles. The mansion which we are introduced to is grandiose, creaky and terrifying, especially as Stewart’s barely audible whispers drift down its dilapidated halls. And then the real thrills begin – a series of mysterious messages from an unknown sender add another dense layer to the mystery. One of the most sublime elements of the film is Stewart’s waltz with the designer dresses of her client; an exploration of her desire, her self-confessed fear of the forbidden. All of which is set against the backdrop of Paris and London – with their cobbled streets and dusky skies presenting an earthy, handsome landscape.

Impressively, for a film that explicitly shows us supernatural figures and occurrences, it remains starkly ambiguous whether anything is real or imagined. This is the film’s centre, its equivocal metaphysics create an aesthetic of enigma. Never is this more clear than in the climatic hotel scene – shots of corridors, empty lifts and gunshots are mashed together brokenly. Yet, for a film which so overtly lacks definition, it is hardly unsatisfying – a cinematic feat given the abundance of unpredictable, inconclusive narrative threads. Stewart’s own dialogue is relatively minimal, but when she does speak, she delivers utterly poignant lines. Her final question is the one that viewers will have imprinted on their minds long after they’ve left the cinema. What remains is an homage to grief – with all its complexities, sensitivities and inexpressible pains.

Review: ‘The Greasy Strangler’ (2016)

Disgusting and brilliant all at once.

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Not all great movies are beautiful. None less so than The Greasy Strangler, a relentlessly oily horror-comedy. Surprisingly, the schlockiest film of the last few years might also be one of the most accomplished cult sensations. This is truly a cult film in every sense: the grease is less bearable than the gore, and permeates every scene with dripping delight.

The production design is incredible. From the grey skies to the blaring disco, colour is used strikingly. Ugliness becomes woven into the film’s identity, from the unappealing bodies of the two protagonists to the ritualistic greasy murders. Even the genitals of Brayden and Big Ronnie are comically shriveled and lumpy (and forever on display). There’s an aesthetic of isolated madness – none of the residents of this small town behave ordinarily, and dialogue is stilted, repetitive and mind-numbing – like putting an ear to the wall of a lunatic asylum. And speaking of ears, the soundtrack is equally revolting, featuring odd baby-like chatter and evoking a demented nursery rhyme.

Nothing could be more appropriate for a film that is so purposefully childish. Crass humor, fart jokes and bizarre chanting abound. And yet, lurking behind this veneer of senseless absurdity is a surprisingly touching story about love, family and identity. Perhaps this is what gives “The Greasy Strangler” its edge – the poignancy of Brayden’s awkwardly lost virginity, the tragedy of Big Ronnie’s fear of loneliness. Or maybe it’s the exploding eyeballs – either would suffice. Not for the faint-hearted, The Greasy Strangler is definitely worth seeing.

Short Review: ‘Life’ (2017)

‘Life’ is rather lifeless.

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From the very beginning, Life informs us of its key influence – the title font alone bears a striking resemblance to that of Alien (1979). The problem is that Life doesn’t seem to know whether it is a tribute film or a less intelligent imitation. The references are too overt to be unintentional, yet the film never quite manages to venerate the original franchise that defines it. Life positions itself in a way that forces comparisons between it and Alien – but side by side, it is clear that the latter is supreme.┬áThe monster – a gelatinous octopus – cannot hold a candle to the primal, parasitic nightmare that is the Xenomorph. Exceptionally, the first few establishing minutes (and a terrifically unexpected first death) promise greater thrills throughout the film. What a shame, then, that neither the cast nor the writing can save this film from falling flat. Though by no means offensive, Life fails to provide anything authentic, discarding potentially rich plot-lines by the wayside.