If you were going to make a guess at which young American actress would turn out to be the muse for European director Assayas, you probably wouldn’t guess at Kristin Stewart, but the surprises are what make art live, you know? In this, their second collaboration, Stewart plays an assistant/personal shopper for a wealthy woman in the world of high fashion. She’s also wracked with grief over the death of her twin brother and driven by that grief to seek for contact with her brother on the other side. The film is a full-on Stewart piece and she’s absolutely fantastic, marrying the easy naturalism that marks a lot of her best work to a quiet devastation. The supporting cast is good, however, though they typically get a scene and then they’re gone; of special note are Anders Danielsen Lie as a friend of Stewart’s brother & Lars Eidinger as the lover of Stewart’s boss. This film is really masterful and vivid. I went into it expecting an artsy meditation on death with some ambiguously ghostly elements; I certainly got a lot of that, but the film is also a really visceral horror film & a compellingly, teasingly smart mystery. There’s a sequence of Stewart alone in a darkened apartment that is as terrifying as just about anything I’ve seen in a theater lately and the film’s mystery elements are fascinatingly done and the intrigue builds as the film progresses. It’s a film that should absolutely be seen without watching the trailer, which gives away a couple of key plot points, as well as tipping the hand of that intensely scary scene I wasn’t expecting. If you require neatly tied up plots, this may not be the movie for you; the film does have ambiguity and I found particularly beautiful the way in which this figures into the climax of the film. Assayas literally fades out at exactly the moment of climax and when the screen comes back up, we’ve missed a really key moment that could help us understand things a little better; this doesn’t feel like a cheat or like someone dodging a story difficulty and so it’s powerful and not frustrating. For me, it really exploded the whole notion of the film and puzzling over exactly what happened during those brief moments I wasn’t privy to was thrilling and I think that section, though there are a lot of other really wonderful sequences in the film, ends up being the most intriguing, bold and compellingly brilliant part of the film. This film is ultimately successful on many levels: a gripping thriller, an evocative character piece & a moving meditation on death and grief. It’s a movie that’s going to slip by a lot of people for a lot of reasons and that’s a shame. It’s a real gem, perfectly detailed, elegant and beautiful. 4 stars.
tl;dr – a great lead performance anchors this gem, a spooky, atmospheric mystery-thriller by way of an artsy, evocative character study; don’t miss this small, sly masterpiece. 4 stars.