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Ghost Story

Kristen Stewart sees dead people in 'Personal Shopper'

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SHOP GHOUL  The fashion world gets the horror treatment - in Olivier Assayas’ new film.
  • SHOP GHOUL The fashion world gets the horror treatment in Olivier Assayas’ new film.

Very sexy and very scary, Personal Shopper is Olivier Assayas' follow-up to Clouds of Sils Maria, the film that proved a sharp and sensitive director could find a virtue in Kristen Stewart's air of neutrality.

Assayas makes a display of this actress' humid eyes, firmly set mouth and smooth physique, but the ghost story isn't all about Stewart's vulnerability—it follows a few sidebars about the parapsychological activities of Victor Hugo, for instance, to get us ready for the point when Assayas starts playing the xylophone on our spinal cord.

Maureen Cartwright (Stewart) is a personal shopper for a very mean and extremely wealthy Parisian. She carries on a frayed relationship via Skype with her boyfriend, who is working a long-term assignment in Muscat, Oman.

Maureen has an avocation—she's a medium and spends a night searching for ghosts in an empty house. It's the house where her twin brother, Lewis, died; her heart, like his, may be a time bomb ready to stop without warning. He'd always promised to send a message back to the world of the living. The film doesn't cheat: a ghost of swirling, smoke-like ectoplasm reveals itself to Maureen early in the film. Later, she gets texts from some mysterious, omniscient being. It knows her every move, telling her, "I want you, and I will have you."

There are three sound people credited here, and you'll see why. The soundscape goes beyond the eclectic mix of the score, including Marlene Dietrich's "Das Hobellied," a song superficially about carpentry, but really about death as the great leveler of the world's classes.

As in David Lynch films, the disturbing sound is more chilling than the disturbing image. The thump of a ghost answering questions has a wetness and echo to it, like the sound of rolling thunder diminishing. And the dull, irritating buzz of a cellphone carrying threatening anonymous messages—perhaps from the hereafter—gives brand-new punch to the old "the calls are coming from inside the house!" gimmick.

'Personal Shopper' is playing at Summerfield Cinemas, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.525.8909.

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