The Stylist (Cert 18)
1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 105 minutes approx.
Release Date – June 7th
Envy is a terrible thing so why can’t people just be happy with their lot? One of those existential questions we will never get a definitive answer to so in the meantime, we should be happy that for most of us, this isn’t a deep-rooted psychological obsession likely to lead to extreme actions.
Claire (Najarra Townsend) is a meek hairdresser and stylist with an apparent sense of low self-esteem about her looks and her empty but normal life. Sarah (Jennifer Seward) arrives for a late evening appointment with Claire. As they chat, Sarah passes out from her glass of wine, Claire shuts up the shop then starts cutting, but not Sarah’s hair.
The next day, Claire gets a call from regular client Olivia (Brea Grant) whose wedding is in a few days and her stylist has cancelled, wanting Claire to save the day. Claire agrees, impressing Olivia with her work and earning an invite to dinner in the absence of Olivia’s fiancé Charlie (Davis DeRock). Claire becomes attached to Olivia but her attempts to ingratiate herself in Olivia’s life backfire, resulting in some disturbing behaviour.
Originally a 2016 short film, writer-director Jill Gevargizian fleshes out The Stylist for her first feature film, a quiet, unsettling, and gory character study of how the insecurity of not feeling like you belong can manifest itself in the very worst of fashions. It follows in the tradition of films like Psycho in which the audience feels some sympathy for the sociopathic killer despite knowing they are wrong and their actions reprehensible.
It is probably unfair to compare Claire to Norman Bates (she is not controlled by a dead mother – also a stylist – in the same way), but the compulsion to kill and be afraid of herself after doing so is similar. Gevargizian has created a character the audience finds themselves wanting to hug but at the same time is wary they may get a pair of scissors in the neck for their troubles.
Despite being attractive, well dressed, and with a luscious mane of auburn hair, timorous Claire appears to feel inadequate against others; her life is a recurring routine of walking the dog, going to the same coffee shop for the same order, then on to the salon until closing time. As Claire’s first victim, the gruesome scalping occurs before the opening credits, an interesting way to set out your stall but it works, and is brilliantly shot too.
Loosely referencing how Buffalo Bill in Silence Of The Lambs would wear the skins of his victims, Claire wears the scalps of her victims like a cap, mocking their dialogue and mannerisms, this brief escape from reality bringing both smiles and tears. She is clearly not well but hides it well as most people do, but with no family or friends to talk to, just Pepper the dog, her inner demons are her friends.
Until, that is, Olivia with her heartfelt gratitude and invitations to be part of the wedding beyond hair stylist triggers Claire’s envy, only this time she knows she can’t go through with her usual procedure of cutting Olivia’s crown off. Struggling to keep afloat mentally and emotionally, Claire has to find an alternate outlet for adding to her grisly skullcap collection – sadly for Dawn (Sarah McGuire), a barista at Claire’s regular coffee shop, she is about to get an unexpected visitor.
Gevargizian’s approach to telling this story is remarkably calm, not even hitting first gear when the scalping happens which makes the entire experience not just unnerving but seem oddly normal for wanting a better term. In that regard, she leaves it to the cast to bring the tension and suspense before the climax at the wedding which is an anomaly to say the least – we can see what is about to happen yet we pray we are wrong because of the sheer discomfort and horror that awaits.
Because of this, it is the perfect ending, perhaps not an earth shattering crescendo but at the same time everything the story has been building up to. It has you squirming in your seat but not as a violent, bloodletting scene would, more by dint of the public humiliation you wouldn’t want to wish on anyone. This toe-curling effect has echoes of the prom scene in Carrie, minus the blood but heavy on the sympathy for the victim.
Aesthetically, this is a stunning looking film, living up to the title in being stylish courtesy of the stunning photography and keen eye for composition; even the scalping scenes are shot with panache. Gevargizian floods the screen with strong but never garish colours, the exception being a nightclub, yet a distinct lack of warmth is pervasive.
Filmed in the US, this has an English feel to the settings, fashions, and authentic veneer, with only the accents, US money, and right-hand drive cars to denote otherwise. Also, the quietness of the presentation, only subtle passages from the eerie music soundtrack (a CD of which comes with the limited edition of this release) are employed to heighten particular scenes from mundane to ominous.
Najarra Townsend has been acting for 20 years, mostly bit parts and low budget flicks; if there is any justice, her stellar, heartbreaking essaying of Claire will see her stock rise and bigger roles come her way. As the lynchpin of the film, Townsend does what few can in giving Claire both a heart and cause to fear her as a dark yet sympathetic killer, by way of compensating for the narrative gaps in why Claire’s psyche is so damaged.
The Stylist is a very assured and impressive debut for Gevargizian, heralding a welcome new voice in psychological horror with the potential to extend beyond genre films. Oddly touching but always uncomfortable, if you want some classy gore bolstered by a top notch lead performance and a story that, pardon the pun, cuts deep, be sure to make an appointment with this film.
English Language 5.1
English SDH Subtitles
Audio Commentary by Jill Gevargizain and Najarra Townsend
Introduction by Director Jill Gevargizain
The Invisible Woman
Behind The Scenes Featurettes
Original Kickstarter Video
Limited Edition Only:
Music Soundtrack CD
Illustrated Collector’s Booklet
Rating – ****
Man In Black