Maureen Cartwright isn’t tending to her duties as a fashion assistant to a wealthy, famous influencer when we first meet her. Instead, she is undertaking a task from a past profession. It’s more a skill, really, but this job is imperative.
She is wandering a desolate house late at night searching for signs of life. Well, death. A medium, Maureen is hoping to receive a signal from her recently deceased twin brother, with whom she shares a genetic defect. She wants to know he is at peace.
Maureen certainly isn’t though. Kristen Stewart impressively brings this literally and figuratively haunted character to life, an American in Paris working a job she loathes while wishing to get out of her rut. And of course also fearful of that heart problem that could take her life at any time.
Written and directed by Oliver Assayas, this quiet, captivating drama intimately follows Maureen’s day to day life, which seems anything but routine. She has a boyfriend working in the Middle East, she has a boss that travels around the world and sends her to buy outrageously expensive wardrobes, she has a ghost that she is seeking, and she has a stranger seeking her.
Much of it is an unnerving, stressful experience, though Maureen seems more at home with the discomfort. A good chunk of the middle of the film involves a texting conversation with an unknown number. The stranger teases her but also strikes several chords. His messages might be enough for most people to just block, but Maureen’s hope to connect with her brother, as her as her desire to escape her life as it is, keeps her curious while simultaneously terrified.
Assayas thus creates a story both captivating and startling, a soft, strange experience that is less about what actually happens – purchases, travels, hauntings, murder – and more about how Maureen responds and focuses. Personal Shopper has moments of shock and suspense, but regards them as regular occurrences, making them even more impactful.
All told, it’s a beautiful, engrossing film, a powerful piece of character-driven storytelling, right through from the eerie start to chilling finish.