Director: Olivier Assayas Starring: Kristen Stewart Running Time: 110 minutes
Hearing the title Personal Shopper, it’s reasonable to be surprised to learn that Olivier Assayas’ latest film is about a woman who appears to be able to communicate with the dead. A true millenial, working as a personal shopper for a celebrity is just Kristen Stewart’s character’s day job, it’s not what she like, does, you know? She’s more into being a medium right now. It’s an unconventional concept for a ghost story and while director Olivier Assayas (who worked with Stewart previously in the acclaimed Clouds of Sils Maria) gains points for the unconventional, it must be said that Personal Shopper is an inscrutable, often frustrating look at things that may or may not bump in the night.
Stewart plays Maureen, who shares a heart defect and apparently a connection with the spirit world with her recently deceased twin brother, Lewis. The pair made a promise to each other that the first one to die would send the other a sign from beyond and Maureen hangs around Paris and her brother’s home in the hope of hearing or seeing something. Anything. The depressing air of grief hangs over Maureen whether she’s investigating the creaky old house for her brother’s widow or when she’s testily picking out impossibly expensive clothes and jewellery for her employer of vague celebrity status Kyra, played by Nora von Waldstätten.
Assayas introduces and explains the spiritual side of the film before the errand-running, establishing a slow-moving tension in the opening scenes as Maureen senses a presence in her brother’s home. Up-fronting this aspect is a good call, as the absence of anything ghostly for long stretches of the film, frustrating as it may be, benefits the ambiguous nature of what’s happening. A few scares early on are necessary and Personal Shopper can be scary when it wants to be, but it mostly keeps Stewart looking at her phone rather than looking at ghosts.
Though the film capably creates an atmosphere of dread-never fully silent, lots of shadows, following its lead voyeuristically-it’s mostly in Stewart’s hands to carry the film while it remains slow and enigmatic. Stewart’s persona is a perfect fit for the film, appearing uncomfortable in her own skin. Maureen wishes she could be someone else, something open to many interpretations but particularly someone else who doesn’t have her brother’s spectre hanging over her, and Stewart’s tense, terse performance reflects both that and the mood of an audience who, like her, might wish the film offered up its answers more readily. She conveys more in her twitchy fingers than some performers might try to show in their face and she brings out her character’s fear in a grounded sense of uncertainty rather than manic terror.
It’s a credit to Stewart that she keeps the film interesting during the long, long stretches where little is happening. Assayas has thoughtful ideas about grief and troubled souls, but it’s hard to meet him halfway when much of the mystery of the story and essentially the entire second act hangs on a conversation Stewart has by text with an unknown phone number. It goes on and on and on, from a cross-Channel train journey and back again, building to a vague and unsatisfying conclusion, while the other, perhaps more pressing matters in the film are handled more interestingly. Personal Shopper has plenty of ideas, an unnerving atmosphere and a strong performance by Kristen Stewart, but its alienating approach makes its recommended only to the most determinedly committed cinephiles.(3.5 / 5)