A favorite from Fantastic Fest 2020 slices its way into our minds and hearts
By Sean Blanford
There are very few people outside of your immediate family and very close friends that you would say you would trust. High up on that list, if you have one, would be your hairstylist. They have complete control over the look your want to put out there, and one false move could lead to total disaster. If the person taking care of you is anything like Claire, you may not be leaving at all, but your scalp will be going along with her.
The Stylist is the new horror/thriller from writer/director Jill Gevargizian and is the feature-length version of her 2016 short of the same name. Claire (Najarra Townsend, reprising her role from the short) is a hairstylist with a dark side. We don’t know much about her throughout the film other than that she lives alone with her dog Pepper, and she doesn’t have much for family or friends. She is also a tad bit crazy, looking for an escapist relief by scalping people she comes across, sometimes at random, and others being carefully selected. She wears these scalps to get, in her mind, a glimpse into their lives, with her repeating things that were told to her during their encounters. When allowed to be the hero to one of her regulars Olivia (Brea Grant), to save her wedding and style her hair for it, Claire tries to garner some control of her urges, which is much easier said than done.
It can be challenging to take a short film, especially one that is very well done, and extend it to a full-length feature that doesn’t feel like it is an idea that overextends its welcome. For the most part, we don’t get that in The Stylist, thanks in most part to the chilling performance of Najarra Townsend. She is the most interesting part of the film, and even when her motivations for why she is doing what she does isn’t explained in any great detail, we feel for her when she struggles through her mental hardships. She is cold and calculating but is still a human being with real emotions, making many of the most shocking events of the film that much more heinous yet heartbreaking. However, if you hate plot holes, this may not be the film for you. We never find out what happens to Claire’s victims after she is done with them aside from where their scalps end up, nor do we know what drives Claire to do these disturbing acts. These inconsistencies in storytelling may not bother you if you’re just in it for the kills, but if that’s all you’re looking for, then you’ll be delighted with what you get.
Overall, The Stylist is a compelling horror film that relies on atmosphere and performances rather than tacked on jump scares. Yes, there is bloodshed aplenty, but it’s not overly graphic to the point where it comes off as gratuitous. Check this out if you’re looking for an under-the-radar scare.
The Stylist is currently exclusive to the Arrow Video streaming platform and will be going to VOD and Blu-ray this June. Go to www.arrow-player.com for more details.