Ghostbusting is supposed to make you feel good. If that’s true, why does Maureen (Kristen Stewart) appear so miserable all the time? Perhaps it’s because the spirit she is trying to bust is that of her brother Lewis, a twin who died of a heart attack in a rambling, old Paris house.
Maureen is an American in Paris working as a personal shopper for pampered jet setter Kyra Hellman (Nora Von Waltstätten). Her job is to pick up and deliver Kyra’s glamorous clothes and jewellery from fashion houses all over the city. When she isn’t choosing filmy Chanel dresses or weighty Cartier necklaces for her boss Maureen spends time trying to contact her dead sibling. They had a deal, whoever died first would send the other a sign. Lewis was a medium, a person able to contact the dead. “I’m not a medium,” she says. “I have to give his spirit, whatever you call it,” she says, “a chance to prove he was right.”
This is a ghost story, so things take a strange turn when Maureen’s phone lights up with mysterious texts while she’s on a quick Chunnel trip to London. “R U real? R U alive or dead?” she writes, replying to the Unknown texter. “Tell me something you find unsettling,” comes the response, opening the door for Maureen to begin exploring her fears, phobias, digging deeper than she ever has.
Spines will be tingled during “Personal Shopper.” The computerized ghostly spirit that visits Maureen from time to time isn’t spooky, but the atmosphere director Olivier Assayas cultivates throughout sure is. Tension and unease build slowly as Maureen’s life slowly takes a turn to the surreal.
Stewart gives a career topping performance, brittle yet calm in the face of mounting terror. This isn’t a showy performance. Instead Stewart opts for naturalism, at least as natural as possible given the subject matter that highlights the deep sense of loneliness she feels in the wake of her brother’s passing. There is a detached feel to the performance that recalls the remove Hitchcock’s leading ladies often projected as she navigates through personal tragedy and supernatural mystery.
“Personal Shopper” doesn’t feel like a horror film. Assayas has made a moody psychological thriller that is about the absence of a loved one as much as it is about thrills and chills.