Personal Shopper film review: mild fright in Paris

Kristen Stewart stars in Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper

The old Marmite analogy is such a terrible cliché, but that’s basically what we’re looking at with Personal Shopper. As a film that was both booed at its Cannes screening and given an almost five-minute standing ovation after its premiere, viewers have been reacting very strongly to it at both ends of the scale.

Kristen Stewart stars as Maureen, an American living in Paris working as a hard-done-by personal shopper for a demanding designer/supermodel (Nora von Waldstätten) who’s never around. Maureen also happens to be a medium, and does a bit of ghost whispering on the side.

She spends a fair few of her nights in creepy houses for superstitious homeowners to determine whether or not they are haunted, while also keeping a third eye out for the spirit of her twin brother, looking for signs of communication from him so she can move on after his death. Even with the spirits, Maureen’s life is a pretty quiet one – until she begins receiving unwanted attention in the form of untraceable text messages, upon which things get very sinister, very quickly.

Personal Shopper is a bit of a slow burner. After a strong start featuring a quasi-séance in a haunted house, it quickly fizzles out into pretty shots with very little plot or dialogue. Nothing of note really happens until Maureen starts receiving the anonymous texts out of the blue while waiting to get on the Eurostar.

The pacing is often awkward and disjointed, but when it wants to be scary it really goes for it. The overall result is a viewing experience that can go from being boring to heart palpitation-inducing sinister and back again in less than three minutes.

Stewart is easily the best thing about Personal Shopper, playing a woman who is both terrified and weirdly thrilled at the realisation that she has somehow acquired a stalker. Through the film’s high and low points, she continues to give a fascinating, unbreakable performance, and becomes the reason to push through and continue watching when the plot starts to taper off.