Personal Shopper review: Kristen Stewart refuses to give up the ghost

A remarkable Kristen Stewart powers Olivier Assayas teasingly cryptic modern supernatural tale

Personal Shopper
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Director: Olivier Assayas
Cert: 15A
Genre: Mystery
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Nora von Waldstätten
Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins

By day, American in Paris Maureen (Kristen Stewart) bikes between upmarket retailers picking up jewellery and dresses for a bratty ill-defined celebrity. By night, she researches the paranormal and yearns for a sign from her twin brother, Lewis, who has recently died from a heart condition she shares.

Maureen’s nocturnal wanderings through an empty house make for unnerving spectacle. She may be professionally dissatisfied and stultified by grief, but she is plainly being visited by someone or something that cannot be explained away by her psychological fragility.

On a cross-channel errand, Maureen receives a text. And then another. Do they have coverage in the afterlife? Is someone playing a prank? Either way, the increasingly creepy messages and semi-erotic dares don’t read like fraternal concern.

Olivier Assayas goes – to paraphrase Tropic Thunder – full ghost with this canny, contemporary take on the ghost story. That's not a spoiler: the first apparition arrives only a few minutes in. And besides, despite being chronological and a good deal less ambiguous than Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas and Stewart's latest collaboration is teasingly cryptic, not least because audiences are unaccustomed to witnessing supernatural goings-on in a "proper film".


Updated Gothic tropes

As with the same director's Irma Vep, Personal Shopper adds unexpected cultural flavours (a dramatised Victor Hugo seance, Klimt abstracts) to its generic underpinnings. Assayas cunningly updates Gothic tropes as technological blips and post-technological alienation: elevator doors open and close for unseen passengers, online videos take the place of dusty research libraries, and "someone is typing" dots are wrung for Hitchcockian dread.

Yorick Le Saux’s camera rightly follows Stewart around like a lost puppy. The first American actress to win a César Award makes every gesture count. The sorrow and loneliness expressed deep down in her eyes during the moment when Lewis’s former lover explains that she has moved on is a delicate motion that harks back to Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s seminal 1928 turn as Joan of Arc.

Stewart and the haunting atmospherics are enough to make us forget about the film’s clunky CG spectres, clumsy lunges into auto-erotica, and its unfortunate preoccupation with couture. Intriguing and properly spooky.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic