By Joie Atejira, October 7 2016 —
Following the 2014 feature Clouds of Sils Maria, Kristen Stewart reprises a personal assistant role in another film by Olivier Assayas. This time, Stewart is at the centre of a film that is unclassifiable — an independent drama with hints of horror and Hitchcockian suspense. The film, Personal Shopper, was featured at this year’s Calgary International Film Festival.
Personal Shopper follows Maureen (Stewart) as she searches for a sign from her recently deceased twin brother. Believing that she’s a medium like him, she hopes to make contact with his spirit. Maureen works as a personal shopper for a celebrity — a dull job that she only keeps to sustain her attempts at communicating with her brother’s spirit. Things take a turn when she makes contact with an unknown violent spirit. The anonymous spirit reaches out to her, inciting a creepy and devastating turn of events that elevates this film from a simple art-house drama to a low-scale but effective thriller.
Stewart takes up most of the film’s screen time and executes Maureen’s silent grievances, loneliness and vulnerability in a subtle and captivating way. Clearly, teaming up with Assayas brings out the best in both the actress and director.
While the film is a tale of a single woman at the end of her rope, Personal Shopper captures her loneliness perfectly. Solitary scenes in the train and on her scooter as she fetches her boss’s expensive clothes and accessories remind audiences of their own lonely moments.
The ghost story thrills as well. Maureen’s search for spirits at the old house where she and her brother grew up gives a classic horror sequence — truly spine-tingling and downright scary. But the film doesn’t focus on that. Instead, it plays more on the suspense of whoever — or whatever — is contacting Maureen through text messages. Film and television rarely feature text messaging scenes that are engaging, unpredictable and anxiety-inducing. Simultaneously, we witness Maureen’s vulnerability beneath her tough persona and her deep longing for connection. Stewart is excellent at portraying fear, curiosity and desire.
Like in Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper ends barely resolved and leaves viewers with even more questions than before. Though ambiguous, the film successfully presents a story about a woman’s internal search for answers, how one solution doesn’t solve everything and that perhaps some things can never be resolved.