Greetings again from the darkness. This is quite probably the first ghost story where the most suspenseful moments center on the texts popping up on a smart phone screen. From writer/director Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria), this one is more than a ghost story – it’s also a story of grief, a search for identity, and yes, that desire or need to connect with the afterlife.
It’s important to note that the film kicks off not with Maureen (Kristen Stewart) carrying out her duties as described in the title, but rather by being dropped off at a once grand country home, now abandoned and the source of some terrific sound mixing. Creaking floorboards, squeaking doors and groaning walls all serenade Maureen as she spends the night in search of the spirit world. We soon learn she was actually hoping to connect with her recently deceased brother Lewis … a twin with whom she had a pact that whomever passed first (they shared a heart “malformation”) would make contact with the other from beyond.
Maureen then returns to her day job as personal shopper and all-around go-fer to her egotistical celebrity boss Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten), a high profile fashion model whose snooty ways have Maureen spewing hatred of her job during Skype sessions with her long-distance boyfriend Gary (Ty Olwin). With incessantly slumped shoulders, Maureen zips around Paris on her scooter toting shopping bags filled with expensive dresses, jewelry and shoes. She’s on the outskirts of wealth and celebrity, but the to-do notes and lack of personal interaction with Kyra epitomize how far outside the circle Maureen really sits.
There are moments of acting support from Sigrid Bouaziz as Lewis’ girlfriend, and Lars Eidinger as a suspiciously low-key creep, but it’s Kristen Stewart who carries the full weight of the film, and continues her streak of very interesting work. She does so in a manner not shy about showing her body, but also with the authentic body language of someone whose frustration grows with each successive text from “unknown”. As a modern twist to the traditional thriller, the film also ties in the past with such touches as Swedish mystic Hilma of Klint and amateur spirit hunter Victor Hugo. It’s understandable how Mr. Assaya’s film received both boos AND a standing ovation at Cannes … no one is really sure how to react to the first texting ghost story!