Three years ago writer/director Jill Gevargizian made waves with a short film that featured a tortured hairstylist taking more than a little off the top. Expanding on that short, Gevargizian’s debut feature The Stylist celebrated it’s world premiere at Celebration of Fantastic Fest 2020, gracing audiences with a gory look into the life of a sympathetic serial killer. As a working hairstylist herself, Gevargizian brings us into the dark mind of a person who feels used and ignored. She has created a compelling and interesting character for us to follow and feel for, but story seems to have been given the snip.
Actress Najarra Townsend reprises her role as Claire, the titular stylist, a woman who could be diagnosed with severe anxiety if it weren’t for all of the scalps she keeps in her basement. Helping flush out the world is genre-staple Brea Grant as Olivia, the one client that has been able to talk Claire into working a wedding. Grant brings as much confidence and tenacity to the role as she has become know for but it’s really Townsend that shines in this otherwise dull character study. Claire is on the verge of frenzy. She knows how far her twisted mind will push and the terrible acts she is capable of, but when bride-to-be Olivia comes
knocking texting, Claire is powerless to refuse.
We often think of serial killers as being calculated and methodical or opportunistic and transient. Claire is by no means hiding in train cars, moving from town to town looking for new victims, but her job and her clients have made her transient. From her chair at the salon, she drifts from person to person like a wanderer with no roots, no connections, no friends. She exists in a space where life doesn’t happen. The salon is where people go before a big date, an important business meeting, or a monumental life event. Memories are not made at the salon because the salon is where you go to ensure that memories will be made when you leave. Claire is a servant to other people’s lives and when she looks at her work in the mirror she doesn’t see the reflection of a job well done, she sees all the lives she never had. And she’ll do anything to live that life if only for a second.
Claire is a fascinating character, dug up from the darkest recesses of Jill Gevargizian and performed expertly by Najarra Townsend. Claire is an incredibly reserved person, lost in her own mind, but no one seems to notice because they are too busy talking about themselves. Even Claire‘s first client in the film comes right out and admits that she can be so open to her about her life (and her affairs) because Claire is a stranger who she will never see again, and who poses zero threat of ruining her life. Although she may have been right that she would never see Claire again, she was dead wrong that Claire poses no threat. Lucky for her she was sound asleep from drugged wine before Claire removed her scalp, disposed of her body (I assume), and played pretend in front of her mirror at home.
The Stylist falls short where a lot of features adapted from shorts tend to, in that it doesn’t have enough story to tell. Claire is an intriguing character who is as sympathetic as she is sadistic but her entire arc can be seen in the first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes. Those moments are strong and I love everything about them but they are highs that the rest of the film never came close to matching. Even alone in my living room, I put my coffee cup down to give the ending of this movie the slow clap is deserved because The Stylist has one of the best finales of any serial killer film of the last decade. It’s an incredibly strong finish and one that would have made a brilliant sequel short to Gevargizian’s 2016 proof-of-concept but it is asking a lot to have two tentpole scenes support an entire feature.
Jill Gevargizian’s The Stylist Celebrated it’s world premiere at Celebration of Fantastic Fest 2020, the digital edition of Austin, Texas’ premiere genre film festival. Click HERE to follow all of our coverage of the fest, and be sure to let us know how nice you are to your stylist over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!