“The Stylist”

3 STARS

There’s something extremely satisfying about a film that delivers the perfect ending, and writer-director Jill Gevargizian‘s “The Stylist” has a grand finale that’s gorily memorable. The story of a lonely hairdresser goes out with a bang (or more accurately, a gash), once the slow-moving film finally gets to the point.

Awkward stylist Claire (Najarra Townsend) longs for personal relationships. There’s no partner nor friends in the picture, and she spends most evenings alone in the home she shares with her dog. Day after day, Claire listens sympathetically as her clients unload their life’s problems while sitting in her chair. Sometimes she starts to imagine what her life would be like if they could switch places, often feeling the sting of envy when her customers are doing things like traveling, enjoying success at their jobs, going to parties, or planning dream weddings. When a new client named Olivia (Brea Grant) sparks Claire’s interest, her motives quickly turn sinister — and deadly.

After a painfully leisurely set up, the film hits its stride as Claire becomes murderously unhinged. The idea of crafting a narrative around a killer hairstylist is clever, as is choosing to make the lead character a sympathetic psychopath. Claire wants so desperately to be anybody but herself, and she lives a quiet and withdrawn life. She doesn’t know how to cope with even the most minor disappointments. When she is invited to hang out at a club with Olivia and her friends, Claire overhears two girls making snide comments about her in the restroom. Instead of the typical response, she is out for revenge — and blood.

This female-centric horror film takes a few well-worn genre concepts and tweaks them with a slight spin. Not only is Claire a mild-mannered, composed, secret serial killer when in good company, she snaps and becomes terrifying after she has one of her murderous episodes. (There’s a scene that involves watching cartoons and eating pizza on a couch that will haunt my nightmares for months). Claire is a stalker with serious mommy issues, often on the prowl for women she feels are better at life than she could ever deserve to be. When her jealous nature rears its ugly head, Claire not only becomes obsessed — she turns lethal.

You could draw a deeper meaning from the story and call the film a keen critique on the psychology of female relationships, including the cattiness that often feels ingrained in girls from early childhood. Or you could sit back and enjoy the slasher film kills as a mild-mannered beautician takes her scissors and scalps her victims one by one.

“The Stylist” may not be the most exciting or interesting film when it comes to compelling storytelling, but the end game delivers a substantial payoff.

By: Louisa Moore

This film was screened at Fantastic Fest 2020

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