Kristen Stewart shines in supernatural thriller
★★★★ Thriller. Rated R. 105 minutes.
Actress Kristen Stewart may forever be associated with the popular “Twilight” franchise, movies that center on the growing pains of vampires and werewolves. Lately, however, she has shone in more serious fare from such directors as Woody Allen (“Cafe Society”) and Kelly Reichardt (“Certain Women”).
With her latest film, French director Olivier Assayas’s “Personal Shopper,” Stewart returns to the kind of supernatural themes that made her a star at the multiplex — only this time it’s in a stylish, highly entertaining art-house thriller.
Stewart plays Maureen, a personal shopper in Paris who buys expensive clothing for her busy celebrity client (Nora von Waldstätten). Maureen also works as a medium, charged with finding out whether a grand old house is still haunted by its late resident.
That resident happens to be Maureen’s twin brother, Lewis, and her search for a sign that his spirit has survived after death underscores the emptiness of her life. She is, after all, a mere assistant, someone who lacks her own identity and who wishes she could walk in her boss’s designer shoes.
Throughout the film, we hear Maureen’s footsteps reverberate in empty spaces — the ghostly echo of her own very modern sense of alienation. We frequently see her on her laptop or iPhone, video-chatting with her boyfriend (Ty Olwin) or looking up people like artist Hilma Af Klint, a pioneering Swedish painter and mystic whose 19thcentury works were said to have been inspired by spirits — and whose art anticipated abstract expressionism by decades.
This ubiquitous and comforting technology turns sinister, though, when Maureen begins to receive anonymous text messages that she at first hopes are from her late brother. The texts quickly become intrusive, and worse.
According to Stewart, the idea for “Personal Shopper” grew out of a conversation in “Clouds of Sils Maria,” her previous film with Assayas, in which Stewart also played a personal assistant (to a veteran actress played by Juliette Binoche). As if defending the movies that made Stewart a star, her “Sils Maria” character asserts that there can be as much truth in genre films – science fiction and fantasy, for example – as there is in so-called serious movies.
On one level, Maureen feels like a continuation of that character, except that here, the personal assistant role anchors a highly effective genre film, not a selfreferential drama. And yet, with its layers of allusions and deep meaning, this apparent horror movie is no less intelligent or cerebral than the earlier film.
Assayas has always worked at a consistently high level of excellence, but “Personal Shopper” is his most vital film in years, at times recalling the verve of his 1996 breakthrough “Irma Vep” (whose star, Maggie Cheung, Stewart evokes whenever she gets on a motorcycle). But you don’t need to be familiar with Assayas’s previous work to enjoy “Personal Shopper.” It works in two realms: as an engrossing ghost story and a drama that addresses profound matters of life and death.
Kristen Stewart in “Personal Shopper.”