Maureen (Kristen Stewart) lives in Paris, working as a personal shopper. She is also a medium, an ability also possessed by her twin brother. Following his death, from a condition she shares, Maureen cannot move on with her life until she’s had a sign from her brother that he’s now at peace.
There’s no one aspect of Olivier Assayas’ latest film that entirely works. As a ghost story it swoops between being genuinely creepy and almost laughably silly, with some theme park-level scares. As a mystery-thriller it takes you down frightening roads but to a glaringly obvious destination. And by its end, it’s left an unruly pile of loose ends. Yet as unsatisfying as it is in its details, it’s so thick with atmosphere and so strong as a character piece that its many shortcomings can be, if not forgotten, at least forgiven. It’s such a peculiar muddle that it’s impossible to categorise, but it revels in its weirdness. That is its greatest strength.
Kristen Stewart is on the best form of her career.
Kristen Stewart is on the best form of her career as Maureen, the least comfortable match of name and actor since Angelina Jolie played Evelyn Salt. Maureen organises outfits for a horrible celebrity, who we barely see but hear a lot about behind her back. Maureen hates her job, which she’s very good at, and her temporary home town Paris. The only reason she’s still in the city is because her twin brother died there and she’s waiting for a sign from his spirit. For Maureen sees ghosts. She doesn’t understand them, but she sees them. She’s every bit as confused by the living. When Maureen starts receiving text messages from an unknown number, she enters into a phone-based relationship that’s far more open than any she has in real life. As the messages become more sinister we, and Maureen, can sense danger racing towards her, claws outstretched, but she’s too desperate to feel something, anything, to retreat from it.
Stewart has often looked uncomfortable in her own skin on screen, seeming like she’d rather be elsewhere in films such as Twilight and Snow White & The Huntsman. Here, playing someone who can’t work out who she is, she shows total control. Her Maureen is fluid and relaxed going through the motions at work, spiky and hurried when pulled into anything like a meaningful conversation and, in one darkly sexy sequence in which she enjoys her boss’ home and wardrobe while she’s away, swells to become the confident creature she says she can’t imagine she truly is. We can’t get a grip on which of these shows the real her, if any of them do, but it’s that slipperiness that makes her magnetic. She leaves us with plenty of questions at the end, just as a great character should. Much of her role is played without dialogue. Stewart manages to bring a range of emotions to the simple act of tapping messages into a phone. (Although who knows whether we’re meant to read anything into the fact she’s the sort of selfish monster who has left her key-tones switched on or if the noisy clacking just plays better on screen.) Her last film with Assayas, Clouds Of Sils Maria, won Stewart a César. She’s found herself as an actress with him, in the same way Keira Knightley did with Joe Wright.
But there’s a distinct lack of flow between the scenes of Maureen sloping around a bedraggled mansion waiting for spirits and those of her conducting a psychosexual entirely textual affair as she races round the city. This makes it feel like two films bolted together. If it’s a bit messy, it’s a beautiful mess. It puts the viewer in much the same position as Maureen: uncertain of what’s going on or what we’re waiting for, but unable to pull away.
A Hitchcockian Poltergeist meets Single White Female, it's exactly as confused as that sounds, but just as intriguing. Stewart shows she’s now one of the most interesting actresses of her generation.