There couldn’t have been a more eerie setting than Carondelet House for the LA premiere of Kristen Stewart’s latest film, the supernatural thriller Personal Shopper. The 1920s Italian villa was bathed in candlelight for the screening. Stewart and Assayas were both in attendance and introduced the film.
Reuniting with Clouds of Sils Maria director Olivier Assayas, Stewart here plays Maureen, a personal shopper as the title suggests, living in Paris, running from the fashion houses of Chanel to Cartier to find clothes and accessories for her client who is too high profile to shop. There’s another reason Maureen is in Paris. When we first meet her, she’s spending a few nights in a mysterious house, hoping to communicate with the spirit of her dead twin brother, Lewis. Suffering from identical heart defects, the twins had made a pact that if one were to pass away they would try to communicate with the other. As it happens, Lewis was a medium and Maureen is there at his old house to seeks signs from her departed sibling. She eventually makes contact with the dead, but it’s not Lewis. Following that encounter, the spirit begins to follow Maureen around, and soon enough she’s receiving strange text messages from an unknown number. Could the mysterious person sending her text messages be Lewis? Or is it some creepy stalker? Either way, they know every move she makes.
It’s hard to say more without revealing the plot or key details about the twisty narrative that follows but Assayas’ story is filled with turns and surprises that all come together by the end.
It goes without saying that Stewart has come a long way since her days in Twilight. Assayas shines an incredible spotlight on Stewart’s ability as an actress. In Clouds of Sils Maria, she was in a strong supporting role, playing yet another assistant to Juliette Binoche’s character, a famous actress. This time Stewart, in the same role as an assistant, is the star of the film, carrying it on her shoulders, and make no mistake about it, she delivers. Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Lars Eidinger, and Ty Olwin play supporting characters, but Stewart is in practically every scene.
Assayas makes use of gloriously delightful shots as Maureen whizzes around Paris on her errands for her boss. He does the same as she travels to London on the Eurostar and back in the same day, using text messages between Maureen and the mysterious being to show the passing of time. Kubrickian tracking shots follow Maureen along, and there’s a hotel hallway moment near the end of the film that alludes to The Shining. Assayas creates visual tension with cinematographer Yorick Le Saux’s camerawork through these shots, but he also spends time with the careful composition, framing Maureen in shots symbolizing her character’s isolation.
There are moments that to some might seem ridiculous. (Sorry, the CGI is not outstanding or convincing.) But Assayas’ lets Stewart own the film with her compelling and totally captivating performance as searching soul who shares the gift of being a medium with her dead twin brother, hoping for a sign that he’s out there.
The numerous narrative strands Assayas introduces at the beginning of the film ultimately come to a head and are deftly woven together by the end. It’s not a simple narrative by any means, which is how Assayas keeps you entertained and gripped at every twist and turn he creates. There are certainly plenty of weird, unanswered questions upon which to ponder.
Personal Shopper is filled with unsettling moments and surprises in this modern supernatural thriller. Assayas challenges your thinking with this impressive film, creating tension and some outright chills through his camera work. The menacing bumps along the way are enough to make you jump out of your seat, but at its core Personal Shopper is a fantastic examination of the mourning of a loved one, grief, isolation, and the day to day strangeness of modern times. It’s a film that keeps your senses engaged and your mind reeling through to the end, and Stewart is once again a marvelous revelation.