Fantastic Fest 2020: ‘The Stylist’ presents gruesome character study

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Claw Productions | Daily Texan Staff

Dandruff is the least of these characters’ hair worries. 

“The Stylist” is a new horror film from writer-director Jill Gervargizian, based on a 2016 short film of  the same name. The film follows Claire (Najarra Townsend), a lonely hairstylist, who spends her days listening to her clients’ life stories and her nights slicing off their scalps to wear as her own. This twisted character study follows Claire’s struggle with her violent tendencies and extreme social anxiety. 

Najarra Townsend is absolutely perfect as the title character of “The Stylist.” Her subtle and timid portrayal of Claire not only causes viewers to sympathize with her, but also to flinch in disgust at her vicious acts of violence. This juxtaposition of feelings is difficult to pull off, but Townsend’s stellar performance is frighteningly believable. 

In moments of extreme stress, Claire’s inner struggles with anxiety are upsetting and portrayed with care. These frequent moments of intimacy make it easy to understand Claire’s headspace and therefore sympathize with her struggles. 

The violence in “The Stylist” is bloody enough to make any horror fan grin with ghoulish delight. Extensive, long takes of scalp removals and other macabre acts of violence are unflinching and extremely unsettling. The contrast of Townsend’s gentle performance with the grisly scenes she partakes in is strange, yet beautiful. The film feels like a slasher, but one where the killer is both the protagonist and antagonist. There are multiple sides of Claire at war with each other, and audiences are exposed to all of them. 

 

As the narrative progresses, Claire grows closer to a client named Olivia (Brea Grant), and eventually is invited to Olivia’s bachelorette party. The event heightens Claire’s insecurities, as she finds it increasingly difficult to feel important amongst the other women. The wedding day feels like the target the entire film is aiming toward, and as the tension between Claire and Olivia grows, Claire’s tendencies become more violent. The wedding scene is a satisfying climax to the suspenseful narrative. 

In terms of faults, “The Stylist” unfortunately lacks style. All too often, many of the shots felt dull in lighting and color correction. Camera shots that could’ve popped felt very muted, dimming the film’s overall sense of identity and unique visual style. It would’ve been interesting to see the color and light palette shift in correlation with Claire’s emotions and more slasher-eseque moments. Regardless, the film’s visual faults don’t hinder the intriguing storytelling of Claire’s journey. 

“The Stylist” is an effective and spooktacular feature directorial debut for Jill Gervargizian. 

3.5 snips out of 5