Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is an American living in Paris. By day, she works as a personal shopper for a famous French model named Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), buying her new dresses and jewelry to wear at fashion shows. But by night, she works as a medium, trying to contact the spirits of the dead. In particular, she is attempting to contact the spirit of her recently-deceased twin brother, Lewis. She and Lewis, also a medium, had promised each other that whomever died first would send a sign from the other side. But after three months of fruitless waiting, she is just about to give up.
Directed by Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria), Personal Shopper is an odd mixture of different genres. On the one hand, it has its supernatural elements, but it never quite lapses into horror territory. Rather, it’s reminiscent of how Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak described itself not as a “ghost story” but as a “story with ghosts in it”. The film never really uses its ghosts to scare the viewer, though they are used to build tension to impressive effect. Yet the movie also use more grounded ways to create suspense, and sometimes even mixes the supernatural with the ordinary in an unusual manner; one example is when Maureen has a bizarre conversation via text message with either a stalker or a ghost. The film leaves the nature of this and many other details ambiguous.
And finally, it’s also a personal drama and character study, and in this respect Kristen Stewart shines. Although it’s easy to forget because of her role in the Twilight franchise, Stewart is a highly skilled actress when paired with an accomplished director, and between this and Clouds of Sils Maria she seems to have made a connection with Assayas. What this character study is actually trying to say, however, I’m not sure about; it’s definitely something regarding grief and loss, but the precise meaning was lost on me. This is a movie I feel that you need to watch twice before all the subtleties become apparent.
A fascinating mixture of supernatural aspects, character drama, and thriller elements and a tour de force for Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper is an unusual yet intriguing story “with ghosts in it”. If you’re looking for something a little outside the ordinary, I’d say Olivier Assayas’ genre-busting film is a good pick.