Having wowed with her 2016 The Stylist short, Jill Gevargizian makes her full-feature directorial debut here by expanding that short and delving deeper into the world of psychologically troubled hair stylist Claire (Najarra Townsend).
In this feature, The Stylist picks things up with Claire and her penchant for scalping those whose lives she’s envious of. Flipping from shy innocence to clinical and calculated murder at the drop of a dime, Townsend is fantastic as Claire – particularly as our titular stylist finds herself becoming more and more obsessed over her soon-to-be wed client Olivia (Brea Grant).
It’s this relationship that is at the heart of The Stylist, with the friendless Claire experiencing mixed emotions by the warmth and welcoming nature shown by Olivia. But the closer Claire gets to Olivia, the more she starts to veer towards a dangerous fixation.
Adding to the oft-trippy inner-workings of Claire, the colour palette and shooting style of The Stylist brings a whole other layer to Claire’s descent into madness. Jill Gevargizian had brought that same ambience to the 2016 short, and many wondered how Gevargizian would fare in utilising that same approach in a feature film. On that front, the filmmaker absolutely knocks it out of the park, bringing in colours, changing up the lighting, or slowing down the action at exactly the right moments.
Sticking with that topic, The Stylist is never anything but utterly beautiful to look at. Gevargizian and cinematographer Robert Patrick Stern have a gift when it comes to serving up delightful visuals, and likewise the musical beats of Nicholas Elert draped over the antics of Claire round out a stunning presentation.
Performance-wise, Najarra Townsend is phenomenal as the headline act here, with Townsend showcasing a genuine innocence and awkwardness to Claire while also bringing a level of emotional weight to the heinous acts that the character carries out. Simply put, this is a powerhouse performance. Then there’s Brea Grant, whose Olivia is never put too far in the rear-view mirror of The Stylist. While this movie is very much Claire’s story, Olivia is a pivotal, grounded piece of the puzzle in how that story plays out – and Grant is great in how she brings so much to Olivia as she finds herself thrown through her own mixed emotions. There also needs to be praise to Gevargizian, Eric Havens, and Eric Stolze for the screenplay they’ve put together here. The dialogue – or lack thereof, at times – always feels natural, and it’s this dialogue that often results in you having some semblance of sympathy towards the clearly unhinged Claire.
For a directorial debut, The Stylist is a brilliant movie. Directorial debut or not, though, and The Stylist is a brilliant movie, period, with so much for horror hounds to devour once the film gets a full release. When we spoke to Jill earlier this year, she jokingly teased how she already had plans for The Stylist 10 (Claire in space with Jason Voorhees, in case you were wondering), and if this movie is anything to go by, the twisted antics of Claire and the concept of The Stylist have so much potential to run with over the next however many years.
Release Date: Out Now (Arrow VOD and Blu-ray). You can read our interview with director Jill Gevargizian here.