CINEMA can often enthral you, provoke you, move you, unnerve you and draw you in with an alluring look while it slyly puts an icy hand on your shoulder. Personal Shopper distils those feelings into one artful, terrifically performed experience that haunts long after it ends.
Maureen (Kristen Stewart) works in Paris as a personal shopper, spending her time buying ridiculously expensive outfits for her glamorous celeb boss Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). She’s unhappy in a job that she admits is “bullshit”, her boyfriend is off working countries away and, worst of all, she’s having to cope with the recent death of her twin brother from a disease she also has.
Maureen has the ability to see ghosts and has been waiting for a sign from her brother since he died. They struck a deal that whoever went first would let the other one know they were alright. Meanwhile, she starts to receive increasingly sinister text messages from an unknown number and feels as drawn to the sender as she does cautious about the danger to which it may lead.
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This is the second collaboration between Stewart and director Olivier Assayas – following her attention-grabbing and award-winning supporting turn in his enigmatic drama Clouds Of Sils Maria – and it’s a partnership that’s clearly hitting on something special. Together they’ve made another fascinatingly layered film that really gives her the chance to shine.
Stewart is brought to the forefront this time around and gives the performance of her career, perfectly nuanced as she remains perceivably blank, putting on a brave face of someone self-assured on the outside but conveying internal anguish and uncertainty beneath the surface.
She gives great depth and subtlety that really helps sell the character as a believable human being among a heightened, shallow world of privilege tinged with an otherworldly, supernatural atmosphere. You really can’t take your eyes off her throughout.
Assayas keeps the viewer on edge and takes us to some very unexpected places, dipping his toes to waters of outright spooky horror one minute before flipping things around to an atmospheric, Hitchcockian tale of obsession, peeling back the layers of a mystery that seemed oh so innocent to begin with. All of this while taking a hard look at the nature of loneliness, personal identity, bottling up grief and looking for answers beyond the death of someone close.
In lesser hands this tale might have come across as crass, clunky or all too tied up in its own sense of what makes for complexity. But Assayas is a skilful filmmaker who knows how to tantalise, engross and provoke in all the right ways, while Stewart gets to the heart of a woman desperately hunting and delicately hurting.