Although most recognised for her starring role in The Twilight Saga, Kristen Stewart has gone on to feature in a wide variety of smaller films which have continued to showcase her undeniable talents. In her second collaboration with director Oliver Assayas, Stewart hallmarks herself as one of the most exciting and daring actresses currently working in film. Assayas’ uncategorisable Personal Shopper is a stylish, captivating and highly atmospheric ghost story for the smartphone age.
Stewart plays Maureen, an introverted young American living in Paris and working as a personal shopper for an egotistical celebrity. Her job involves collecting obscenely priced designer clothing from around European capitals and delivering them to unappreciative model Kyra. Despite loathing her job, Maureen stays in Paris in anticipation of a spiritual sign from her deceased twin brother Lewis - who died just months before from a rare genetic heart condition which Maureen also shares. Both twins were mediums and before Lewis’ death they agreed that whoever died first would attempt to contact the other to prove the existence of an afterlife.
In the film’s disquieting opening scenes, Maureen stays overnight at her brother’s Parisian home hoping to receive a message from Lewis’ spirit. Assayas steeps Personal Shopper with an unsettling ambience that entertains and enthrals throughout. He masterfully utilises eerie silences and shadowy lighting in this opening scene to establish a genuinely creepy, haunting tone. In a later sequence, Maureen engages in a prolonged text conversation with a mysterious, unknown and possibly supernatural being. The exchanges fluctuate between being menacing and amusing, but they’re continually imbued with suspense. While mobile phones are often maligned by filmmakers as suspense-drainers, Assayas employs text messaging in a completely cinematic, tension-filled manner. This crescendos in one particularly nerve-wracking sequence in which Maureen switches on her phone and receives a series of increasingly aggressive texts all at once from her pursuer.
From here the narrative morphs into a gruesome murder mystery and this straddling of genre is another of the film’s many charms. Personal Shopper is a ghost story, a murder mystery, a psychological thriller, a realistic character study, a critique of the superficiality of the fashion world as well as an exploration of the grieving process. While inevitably all these strands don’t always hold together coherently, there’s a definite pleasure to be attained from the film’s strange, undefinable nature.
At the centre of Personal Shopper is Stewart’s flawless, elegant and nuanced performance which paints a poignant portrait of mourning and identity crisis after the loss of her twin. Stewart’s subtle micro-expressions and body language makes the simple sending of a text message a highly expressive, emotionally-loaded act. It’s a spellbinding, mature turn which keeps the audience transfixed on every facet of Stewart’s performance.
Revelling in ambiguity throughout, Assayas’ Personal Shopper is a compelling, utterly original and multi-faceted film with a mesmerising central performance at its core.
PERSONAL SHOPPER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: OLIVER ASSAYAS / STARRING: KRISTEN STEWART, LARS EIDINGER, SIGIRD BOUAZIZ / RELEASE DATE: JULY 17TH