Director: Jill Gevargizian
Notable Cast: Najarra Townsend, Brea Grant
Originality is overrated. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times on repeat until I bleed from my ears and eyes. It’s in the execution where a film finds its freshness. A willingness by its creative elements to own its history and define its future is key. The Stylist is absolutely a representation of that ideology. To boil down its concept to its bare bones for an audience to decide if it's worth its weight in plastic and paper, one could easily call this film Single White Female through the lens of Maniac. It’s not wrong to describe it that way, but it’s the execution of that viewpoint that crafts a stunning horror picture. The Stylist takes a little off the top and adds a bit of color and highlights to the mixture described, but the results are a stunningly nuanced, heartfelt, and often terrifying concoction ready for the horror runway.
Claire has a beautiful home, a sweet little dog, and a hairdressing job that allows her to live comfortably enough. She does have a secret though. She murders people and scalps them to keep their hair in her collection. When a regular customer, Olivia, hires her for a wedding, her obsession with Olivia’s seemingly perfect life will push her further than she’s ever gone before.
It’s always a hard sell for a film when it’s protagonist also happens to be its main antagonist for its audience. Not that an audience has trouble rooting for villains, as many horror franchises eventually convert their icons into fan favorites, but when a film wants to push from the cheese factor into a more disturbing territory - it’s a hard sell. For The Stylist, writer and director Jill Gevargizian captures the complicated balancing act with a delightfully delicate touch. Tonally, the film is as much an examination of misunderstanding and sadness as it is the horrors of its character, Claire. The former is an emotional gateway for an audience to understand the pain and strife of its lead, but one that, like all great villains, is corrupted by choices to push into territory beyond the line of normal human behavior. In this regard, The Stylist is reminiscent of controversial films like William Lustig’s Maniac, but it’s done with a modern sense of style and flair that betrays Maniac’s dire grittiness.
Certainly, a large portion of the credit in delivering on that balance deserves to be placed on the shoulders of Najarra Townsend in the lead role. While my previous comparison to the film Single White Female should indicate some of the direction of the film, don’t let it detract from the acting through comparison. Townsend’s sense of nuance as she rapidly shifts through the entire spectrum of emotional vulnerability is incredible to watch and it’s regularly countered by Brea Grant as Olivia, the focus of her new obsession. Between the two women, The Stylist finds such a dynamic core to explore its themes. However, it’s hard to even accidentally overlook how impressive the performance that Townsend gives.
Now, comparing any film to Maniac is going to carry weight with it in expectations and, while I stand firmly by that, don’t expect a gore galore. The film contains its fair share of gory moments, opening the film in an artful sequence of intimacy that careens into a toe-curling moment, but it’s not the focus of the film. Instead, all of the kills and gore moments are heavily tied into the emotional processing and status of Claire, which makes them far more impactful than just run of the mill kills. A fair trade if there ever was one in a horror film.
The Stylist is an immaculately crafted tale of terror worth seeking out. Through a stunningly well thought through script and direction combination from Jill Gevargizian and a nuanced and powerful performance from Townsend, the film soars far higher than expected. The film is already available on the Arrow Streaming app (where available) but it is getting a Blu Ray release soon. I cannot recommend enough, no trimming or touch-ups needed.