Spirits in the material world

Personal Shopper

Personal Shopper
Ends tonight, May 4. Pageant Theatre. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

Maureen (Kristen Stewart), the title character in Olivier Assayas’ intriguingly haunting new film, is a personal shopper for an ambitious young celebrity (Nora von Waldstätten). She’s also a kind of freelance medium who, at film’s start, is hoping to contact the spirit of her recently deceased twin brother, for reasons of her own but also on behalf of the latter’s grieving fiancée, Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz).

The potential outlandishness of that premise is soon compounded by Maureen’s discovery that someone unknown and unseen is stalking her by way of alarmingly intimate text messages. All that might have sunk a lesser film right from the start, but Assayas’ deadpan approach to pacing and performance and Stewart’s nervy, feet-on-the-ground performance give it momentum and credibility as a tale of uncanny intrigue.

A big part of what emerges is a distinctively modern ghost story, with lively connections between its roots in the dark romances of the 19th century and the ghosts in the social machinery of the 21st. There’s also a bizarre, half-lit murder mystery that slides sidelong into the proceedings.

The film riffs throughout on blurred identities and ghostly pairs of twins, and in one of the more compelling of its several identities, Personal Shopper is simply a film about Kristen Stewart, a tale made for and around the fascinations of her emerging movie persona.