Film Review: Personal Shopper (USA, 2016) falls flat with its supernatural elements

Poor Maureen (Kristen Stewart). Her boss, Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten) is impossible, sending her all over Europe for clothes and shoes she is too rich and famous to buy for herself. On top of that, her twin brother died a few months ago, and he still hasn’t contacted her from the beyond, even though he promised.

So Maureen spends lonely nights in the house where he lived, waiting for something, as she says, more tangible than bad plumbing. Personally, if I spent a whole night in a dark and empty house, alone, I would swear I made contact with something. Writer/director Oliver Assayas understands this, as neither the viewer or Maureen is ever sure of what they see.

We follow through her two worlds. The European boutiques are in a documentary style, drawing us into her everyday life. Alongside this are spookier conversations and encounters, with wisps of the undead that might as easily be from the end of her cigarette. I found these scenes more contrived, demonstrating less confident work both in Assayas’ direction and Stewart’s fidgety readings.

This is also true of scenes where Maureen is being consulted by potential buyers of her brother’s house – they respect her ability to assess whether it is haunted as if it were as trivial as the plumbing. It’s a funny thing about any ghost story, or any story where someone has a special view of something. The more that people doubt or disagree with them, the more seriously you take them. The more people agree with Maureen, the stupider she seems.

Her spiritual and professional worlds do eventually collide. On a train from Paris to London, she receives texts from an ‘Unknown’ contact, whose insight into her life and her soul is both eerie and flirtatious. They provoke her grief and her fears, encouraging her to try on the clothes she is buying for Kyra. She is not supposed to be doing that, but we can tell she enjoys it, with the soundtrack boosting the sensation of fabric sliding on her skin, and leather shoes popping around her heel. We can tell by the look of longing she gives to the mirror. When Stewarts keeps still, which is rare, she can do marvellous things with her eyes.

Are these partially frightening and partially flirtatious texts being sent from beyond this life? Do we care? What it leads to are the only satisfying moments, emotionally and cinematically. As for the rest, I didn’t really buy it.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Personal Shopper is in cinemas on Thursday

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