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Saturday, September 26, 2020

[Review] ‘The Stylist’ Evokes Bloody Sympathy for the Psychopath

Within the last five or so years, director/producer Jill Gevargizian has been hard at work, releasing an impressive number of short films. Of them all, it was her 2016 short “The Stylist,” that garnered the most acclaim and attention by horror-loving hearts on the festival circuit, though. In just fifteen minutes, the short relayed the intriguing tale of a lonely hairstylist with a penchant for collecting scalps. The precise type of serial killing pathos that begged for expansion. The Stylist marks Gevargizian’s feature debit, giving her sympathetic serial killer a full-length story that retains the elegance, violence, and character work showcased in her short.

Najarra Townsend (Contracted) stars as Claire, the eponymous hairstylist. Claire’s a talented professional with a reputation for transformative work and an unwavering ability to put her clientele at ease. The more she listens to her customers unburden themselves upon her, the more the lonely stylist covets their lives. For Claire, she sometimes acts on the impulse to step into another’s shoes by drugging one-off customers and scalping them to don their hair whenever she feels like being someone new. Olivia (Brea Grant), one of Claire’s regular customers, seems to have everything Claire wants in life. When Olivia extends a friendly invite to Claire after hiring her to do hair for her wedding, it opens the floodgates for deadly obsession.

Much like the short, The Stylist is an elegant character study of a psychopath on the brink of self-destruction. Claire is a soft-spoken, timid woman without any real friends. Townsend imbues Claire with a sympathetic heartache, much like Elijah Wood did for Frank Zito in Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac remake. Like Zito, Claire is a deeply disturbed individual that temporarily alleviates her deep-seated pain through murder and scalping. Like Wood, Townsend brings an almost innocent vulnerability to her role, making Claire such an interesting character. She struggles with her homicidal impulses, and the inner conflict that brings as she faces pivotal, grisly choices is palpable.

Opposite her is Grant as the well-adjusted straight woman, the oblivious target of Claire’s fixation. Gevargizian, along with co-writers Eric Havens and Eric Stolze, ensures Olivia is a fully fleshed-out character. Not just to present the truth that Claire is unable to see, which is that Olivia’s life lacks perfection, but as a means of driving the plot forward. Olivia is the compass that grounds a film led by a spiraling, lost soul always adrift in her sadness.

Gevargizian demonstrates a strong, clear vision for her sympathetic psychopath, and The Stylist presents as one of the more sophisticated depictions of a burgeoning serial killer. Visually and stylistically, Gevargizian’s debut is gorgeous. The costume design speaks volumes about Claire and Olivia, which is essential in a quiet film with multiple, mostly dialogue-free scenes. Gevargizian’s emphatic use of slow-motion camerawork also contributes to the overall moody, dreamlike tone that puts us in Claire’s unstable headspace.

Because Claire’s favored method souvenir of her victims is scalping, and that never entirely goes as smoothly as she’d like, expect imaginative deaths that get very bloody. Though, for its runtime just over fifteen minutes shy of two hours, it might’ve benefitted from one or two more kills. The narrative never wavers from Claire’s steadfast goal, nor does it spend a lot of time delving too deeply into her psyche beyond a few emotionally charged moments, so the middle act sags a bit. Still, though, it’s a strong debut by Gevargizian featuring a compelling horror villain. Townsend is so good in the role that you don’t know if you want to run from Claire or hug her. Maybe both.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3633722/fantastic-fest-review-stylist-evokes-bloody-sympathy-psychopath/

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