Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper once again stars Kristen Stewart (the pair worked together on the Clouds of Sils Maria) as a sort of assistant to a famous individual. This time the individual in question is the notoriously demanding fashion model Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), who Maureen (Stewart) acts as a personal shopper to. Maureen is also a medium and spends most of her downtime trying to contact her recently deceased brother who died of a heart condition of which Maureen also suffers.
In a Q and A, director Olivier Assayas’ proclaimed his admiration for the genre filmmakers such as John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and David Cronenberg. Personal Shopper is, in a sense, a genre film, and revolves around loss which is a key theme of ghost stories but Assayas’ film is more spiritual (like the horror films of Japan where spiritualism in intertwined deeply in their culture) than the good vs evil of American ghost stories. Assayas’ admires the aforementioned names, and has the abilities to match them in generating tension. Assayas’ use of sound effects (those creaking floorboards are very audible) and long takes adds to the tension during the film’s most nerve-racking sequences.
Even though most ghost stories are routed in traditional narratives (because of their origins), modern technology plays a major role in invading Maureen’s life. In a subplot, which has a somewhat disappointing resolution, Maureen is bombarded by messages by an unknown individual that convinces her to do certain things she had desired to but normally wouldn’t (wearing Kyra’s clothes for instance). Eventually, it all culminates in a delightfully Hitchcock like sequence where Maureen, switching her phone off Airplane mode, is bombarded by messages that reveal the sender to get closer and closer to her with each text.
Despite the prevalence of modern technologies, Personal Shopper centres around loss, a theme common with the genre since its inception. Clearly reeling from the loss of her twin brother, Maureen tries to contact him and will only leave Paris once she has done so. Stewart is adept at showing the pain Maureen feels without the histrionics, and does a great job a commanding the screen even if the majority of her screen time is solo. Personal Shopper is a haunting tale about coping with, and moving on, from a terrible loss.