‘The Stylist’ Review: Horror and Some Killer Hairdos
By Daniel Rester
Jill Gavargizian announces herself as a fresh horror voice with The Stylist. She’s the co-writer and director of the film, which is based on her 2016 short of the same name. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, she was able to expand the short into the feature. Many horror films based on shorts often show their limited origins, but Gavargizian has done well in making her feature-length version feel warranted.
The Stylist follows hair stylist Claire (Najarra Townsend), a quiet thirty-something who seems nice on the surface but is actually a psychopath. She enjoys striking up conversations with her customers, but if they say things that come across as inappropriate then she becomes triggered. For instance, she kills one woman at a late-evening appointment because the lady talks about cheating on her husband and dismisses Claire as someone who would never say anything about it. So Claire takes her scalp and puts it with her collection in her basement.
Claire’s life is shaken up when one of her regular customers, Olivia (Brea Grant), asks her to be her emergency hair stylist for her wedding after the appointed one bails. Claire doesn’t like to do weddings, but she reluctantly agrees. When Olivia starts showing warmth towards Claire, Claire becomes obsessed with her.
Gavargizian’s film has echoes of the serial killer classics Maniac (1980) and May (2003), but it also feels like its own thing at the same time. The director has said the material is personal to her (she was a hair stylist herself) while her love of horror pushed her towards the genre. You can feel Gavargizian’s passion behind the camera because of the precision and emotion displayed in each scene as Claire’s life is explored. Claire isn’t just a hack-and-slash killer, but rather a real character with depth behind her eyes and actions.
Key to bringing Claire to life is Townsend. The actress manages to make us feel sympathetic towards Claire while also fearing her. The character often has breakdowns with tears behind closed doors as she contemplates her decisions. We can’t relate to her wearing scalped foreheads and hair, but we can relate to her loneliness. She is a fascinating psychopath character who pretends to care about everyday people but really just wants her shot at one meaningful relationship. With Olivia (Grant is also very good), she takes a chance towards that but lacks the ability to take hints or come across as normal.
The Stylist looks terrific despite its low budget. There’s a lot of creativity with background lighting, with Claire’s salon popping with purples. Gavargizian also pulls a De Palma a few times and uses split screens in a flashy way, with one scene even using zooms at the same time as the split. She also gives the hair styling scenes a sort-of sensuality by using slow motion and multiple crossfades. Phone texting graphics are used too many times throughout the film, but otherwise The Stylist’s visuals are satisfying. Even the gore is shot with a certain level of sheen.
Gavargizian’s film sags in its middle portion as a few scenes feel like they’re hitting the same notes. The final scene is also a bit predictable, but it still works. Gavargizian never loses confidence or control though, with Claire and her decisions always the focus. The director could have easily taken an easier route by making the material horror satire (Claire selling wigs made of scalps to beauty shops or something). Instead she takes a more difficult and intimate route and mostly succeeds in crafting an emotional horror film.
The Stylist is now exclusively streaming on Arrow and will be more widely available on VOD in June.
My Grade: 8/10 (letter grade equivalent: B+)
Running Time: 1h 45min