The Stylist (2021)

8 Jun

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Actress Najarra Townsend was the best part of the 2013 body-horror film Contracted, in which she played a troubled florist transforming into a zombie; she’s even better in Jill Gevargizian’s tense, bloody & atmospheric thriller “The Stylist” as a troubled and very lonely hairstylist who has a horrid habit of…well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Townsend turns in a wonderful performance as Claire, the stylist. Claire is great at her work, transforming her clients effectively as they go on about their day and she listens sympathetically. She practically lives for her clients as, outside of work, she has no one (except her adorable dog) and completely unhappy with her life.

Oh, and she also invites clients for appointments after hours so that she can then drug them and then murder them…and then scalp them to wear their hair as wigs. (YIKES! Never go into a place of business for a visit after hours, especially in a horror film.)

Both Gevergizian and Townsend gives us a sympathetic eye into Claire’s world from the way she tries to put herself in her customers’ shoes to how she gets angry with herself when she feels awkward about a social encounter. We never lose sight of the fact that Claire is a psychopathic serial killer, and it’s intriguing that we’re shown her development into total self-destruction. We’re disturbed by her, and yet at the same time, we’re able to feel for her as well. Much of the film focuses on her many instances of feeling lonely, and it’s to the credit of both this writer-director (as well as Gevergizian’s co-writers Eric Havens and Eric Stolze) and this actress that I’m glued to the screen even in these quieter moments. “The Stylist” is a remarkable character study.

Brea Grant (a talented filmmaker herself, having come off of the sharply-satirical chiller “12-Hour Shift”) co-stars in “The Stylist” as Olivia, a future bride who is one of Claire’s regular clients whom Claire wants to get more of. Claire’s going to style Olivia’s hair one way or another, but she wants more than that–she gets herself invited to her bachelorette party and tries to socialize to not much avail. What happens after…well, let’s just say we go a little beyond “Single White Female” territory at this point.

The scenes in which Claire and Olivia sort of bond are delicately handled and both actresses play it really well. And they add on to the tragedy that is to come thanks to Claire’s inner turmoils and (ahem) stylistic tendencies. (It even speaks to the very real truth that it’s even harder to make new friends as adults.)

I also want to give praise to other actors, such as Jennifer Seward, Davis DeRock, Millie Milan, and Sarah McGuire, who have small but pivotal roles.

The ending isn’t predictable so much as inevitable, but I appreciated how there were no easy answers in its regard. (It’s also very chilling and the actors play it rather well.)

“The Stylist” is less a horror film about who lives and who dies–instead, it’s more a horror-drama about how far gone the killer will go down the rabbit hole of murder. Add some stellar camerawork by Robert Patrick Stern to Najarra Townsend’s great work and Jill Gevergizian’s top-notch direction, and “The Stylist” is a horror film that definitely has a style all its own.

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