There's something really spooky happening in Personal Shopper. The film, which stars Kristen Stewart as a taciturn personal shopper and medium mourning her twin brother Lewis' death, has a masterfully unsettling ambience set by director Olivier Assayas. I've been sitting in the dark cinema for about 30 minutes when I see it. I'm already tense, ready to jump at the slightest glimpse of ectoplasm.
Up on screen, Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is about to embark on the Eurostar for London to pick up what I presume is a fabulous outfit for her insufferable diva employer. Things are fraught: Maureen has been waiting for the past three months to receive a posthumous message from Lewis, and so far zilch. And then, her phone buzzes. An unknown number flashes on the screen, but the messages are weirdly personal. A normal, pedestrian human such as I would simply assume that another human, albeit a strange one, is trying to reach out. But as a medium, Maureen is above such plebeian antics. She jumps straight to the Tyler Henry conclusion: A ghost is stalking her. And then, there it is. Not the spectre of a life lost, or a tortured soul crying out for redemption.
Something far more disturbing.
A small cluster of words below the blue bubble of iPhone text: "Read."
The alleged ghost has read receipts turned on.
I kid you not when I tell you that I audibly gasped because read receipts are simply one of the most terrifying things technology has bestowed upon us. How many times have you stared at that awkward text you've sent to your crush, only to see "Read" pop up underneath, with no response forthcoming? To have them turned on is a message that says: "Here I am world, I don't care that you know I'm ignoring your invite for brunch tomorrow. I'm not busy or distracted, I just can't be bothered to reply." It's bold, and it's scary.
In a film that uses technology for horror in one of the most creative ways I've ever seen, the read receipt is the perfect cherry on the sundae. What's more, the end reveal (which I won't spoil here, because you should all go see this movie), only compounds its relevance. Of course [insert culprit here] has read receipts turned on. The pieces all fall into place, like the perfectly balanced silver scales on Stewart's delicate Chanel dress.
Kristen Stewart totally understands the low key terror that lurks behind technology in this movie. She recently spoke about her texting philosophy in a recent interview with V Magazine. “When you speak to someone on the phone, that is a decipherable, understandable exchange," she says. "But with text and social media, it’s essentially a dialogue with yourself and your interpretation of a shadow. It’s not invalid; it’s a new language.”
Coming from anyone else, this would seem pretentious. But when Stewart says it, it's oddly poetic. One thing the film does amazingly well is push through the idea that as our ability to communicate evolves, so too does the way we potentially communicate with the after-life. It is now literally possible to show the receipts.