Maureen Cartwright (Kristen Stewart) is a personal shopper to an influential figure in the fashion world, not that she particularly enjoys the experience of popping in to the finest boutiques and snapping up all the most expensive clothes and jewellery her boss has her eye on. Part of that is down to her not being too keen on the woman, but she is undergoing a crisis at the moment which not everyone would be able to understand, largely because she keeps her emotions bottled up, not having anyone she can turn to in order to share her inner turmoil. This is thanks to her twin brother dying recently of a heart defect she shares, and she misses him terribly, but what if there was a method of reaching him from beyond the grave?
Wait, what? Where did the supernatural element arrive from? This was ostensibly a study of grief from writer and director Olivier Assayas, and not the all-out horror onslaught it was advertised as, leaving a lot of disgruntled film fans believing they had been sold a pig in a poke, not many of them prepared for a soul-searching drama that kept its cards close to its chest as far as its overall meaning went. He was a director unafraid to branch off into various digressions seemingly for the hell of it, or at least to amuse himself while demonstrating what a versatile medium cinema could be, though the fact remained his efforts more often than not fell under the bracket of arthouse movies, and not everyone got along with those.
Especially if they had not noticed Stewart was an arthouse queen by this stage, her role in the blockbusting Twilight saga apparently setting her up in her career for the chance to work with all sorts of non-mainstream directors which, all credit to her, she obviously found more satisfying than showing up in more generic fare: you could not envisage her leaping into a fluffy romcom after something like Personal Shopper. In truth, her mentally fragile stylings (in character, that was) were better applied to work like this, so it was nice she had found her metier rather than being damned to scraping by in a series of derivative Hollywood efforts of diminishing returns, and there was little conventional about the shenanigans here.
In fact, the first we saw of Maureen (Maureen?!) was a lengthy introduction where she wandered around an empty house and its autumnal surroundings in the countryside, supposedly so she could get in touch with a spirit as she is convinced she has powers of mediumship, all to settle the fears of the prospective buyers who wanted to know if there were any unquiet presences lurking in the property. She is desperately hoping her brother will contact her from the other side, and looks up various spiritualist videos and books to find out more, pointedly something about the instigators of spiritualism the Fox Sisters who amazed the 19th century audiences with their antics until they admitted they had made it all up and were hoaxers (the rapping sounds they made were them cracking their toes!).
From that you wondered if Assayas was going to point out spiritualism was based on a fraud, yet as he didn't mention the dodgy aspects you suspect he was embracing a movie version of the paranormal, a suspicion confirmed when Maureen is attacked in a ghostly onslaught at the old house. But was that her brother? Or is it the person who keeps texting her and asking her anonymous questions? This plot point was an issue if you were uninterested in reading others' phone texts, as long stretches involved reading what was on the heroine's mobile, which though it brought up the theme of voyeurism did not make for riveting viewing, to say the least. This voyeurism angle extended to positing the audience as pruriently spying on the young woman much as a spirit would, so we got to see Maureen in her private moments, including taking her clothes off and masturbating in the so-called "wank séance" of urban parlance, a potent take on what we get out of cinema, yet the director left it hanging there with an unresolved ending, less haunting and more deflating.