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Kristen Stewart sends texts to the afterlife in this unsettling arthouse ghost story.

Of all the things that Kristen Stewart can teach us, what it's like to shout into the void — what we expect to happen, why we do it, and the simple fact that we do it — might be the most surprising. Welcome to Personal Shopper, a ghost film haunted several times over, and haunting in just as many ways.

Reuniting Stewart with her Clouds of Sils Maria director Olivier Assayas, this is a movie that takes full advantage of the actress' minimalist acting style. The former Twilight star is known, and has often been lambasted, for seeming distant and fidgety in her on-screen interactions. But in an age when most people spend hours staring at their iPhones waiting for three grey iMessage dots to turn into a connection, aren't we all guilty of the same thing?

Here, Stewart is well and truly one of us – distracted and disconnected, glued to her phone, waiting and wondering what comes next. Her character Maureen, a medium who works as the assistant to a celebrity starlet, spends much of the movie texting back and forth with a mysterious unknown number, answering probing questions and slowly revealing her secrets. At the same time, she tries to reach out to her recently deceased twin, who died of a congenital heart defect that she's afflicted with as well.

With everything from the not-quite-vampire flick Irma Vep, to the complex crime biopic Carlos, to the melancholy student drama After May on his extensive resume, writer-director Assayas is a master filmmaker attuned to the subtleties and ambiguities of life. Still, no matter how well shot, paced and structured his latest film may be, it'd be a shadow of itself without its lead actress. Stewart is perfectly cast in a role that Assayas wrote specifically for her. Her relatable blend of awkwardness and yearning, as she tackles the existential malaise that spooks us all, is the main reason the movie works so well.

Personal Shopper is a moody, enigmatic horror flick; a spine-chiller that unfolds one text at a time. But that's not all it is. It's also a recognisable portrait of how difficult it is to stomach mundane daily tasks when you're grieving, even when you're working in a seemingly glamorous job. It shows what everyday communication is really like, without resorting to cutesy ways of throwing text messages around the screen. Finally, it contrasts physical mortality with the eternal virtual realm. Blend all that together and you're left watching an immersive, intriguing film that demonstrates how modern life has become a conversation with ghosts of the digital variety. That's what a truly contemporary scarefest is really all about.

Published on April 13, 2017 by Sarah Ward

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