FrightFest 2020: The Stylist review – keep your hair on…

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Jill Gevargizian revisits her impactful short film with this feature length atmospheric horror offering – here’s our review.

Hair stylist Claire (Najarra Townsend) doesn’t do weddings. She has her clients and she sees new people at the salon, and she’s well liked for the quality of her work. She gets her coffee too, the regular from the same place where the barista knows her name and her order. And, of course, she collects scalps. Sometimes, Claire will remove the top of someone’s head and take it to her basement, where she wears it as a wig to allow her to experience being someone else.

But she does not do weddings. However, when a regular client has the hair stylist drop out of her wedding plans at short notice, Claire decides to make an exception. This proves to be a mistake. Claire is unsure of just how close she should feel towards her client, the arrangement blurring the line between social and professional, and begins to fall into a dazed and dangerous obsession.

The Stylist is a film of incredibly impactful moments and ideas. The opening, which introduces the character and the ‘what’ of her actions is brilliant, as are striking and interesting incidents throughout the film, such as a bizarrely sexual near miss during a break-in and the wonderfully audacious ending. In these moments, The Stylist is gripping and powerful. Using the level tone, dream-like atmosphere and feel in these high impact incidents makes a strong impression. There are bits and pieces of a really masterful horror movie scattered throughout The Stylist.

It runs into trouble, though, with its central narrative. The short film by director Gevargizian has been expanded into a feature with a screenplay by Gevargizian, Eric Havens and Eric Stolze. Once it hones in on its story of obsession, it starts to apply all of that interesting set up work to a tale that feels extremely familiar. It’s hard not to skip ahead of the story and to accurately anticipate exactly where its going, and The Stylist never seems to be in any great rush to catch up to you. As an audience member, you find yourself waiting for the film for long stretches of time.

Perhaps that’s because The Stylist combines that familiar story with an unhurried pace. In the beginning, the pacing serves to create a smooth, assured feeling to the material and the character. The score and the look and the measured pace make the film feel precise and luxurious (values important to Claire).

However, that pace doesn’t work when we become focused on overly familiar story elements. It just takes a long time to do things that we know it’s going to do. It’s quite frustrating and leads to questions as to whether there’s quite enough going on.

In particular we could do with more on what Claire is so enamoured by in Olivia (which isn’t a knock on Brea Grant, who is dependably brilliant). As it plays out, this writer wasn’t sure the obsession felt quite authentic, likely because there isn’t enough done to communicate Claire as an isolated or lonely character.

The frustration of this is that it feels like The Stylist is really quite close to being something special. It just feels a little underwritten.

In particular, Gevargizan has really tapped into something with the idea of a stylist adding beauty and joy to other people’s lives, of being granted a weird, temporary but genuine intimacy while being kept on the outside. It’s very compelling, if not fully exploited here.

Then there’s the casting, which is excellent throughout. Najarra Townsend is wonderful in the lead role. Her tight, detached and vulnerable Claire is charged with carrying much of the unique feel of the film and she delivers brilliantly. Elsewhere, Brea Grant is having a hell of a year and her turn as the breezily-skipping-into-a-nightmare Olivia will further enhance her reputation further.

Before we wrap up, we must mention that the ending of the film is brilliantly demented. If you have a moment this strong, give it to me right before I walk out of the cinema (or as is currently the case, my living room).

The Stylist, then, falls somewhere between a missed opportunity and a promising start. A film that we wouldn’t discourage you from seeking out but one that we couldn’t talk about without expressing our frustrations. Imperfect but interesting, we’ll certainly be interested in seeing what Gevargizan does next.


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