The Stylist begins with a haircut. Our protagonist Clare (Najarra Townsend), is cutting the hair of a client who is chatting away about her life. As the woman talks more, you can see the envy in Clare’s eyes. She makes the client a drink, waits for it to take effect, scalps the poor woman and then gets her body ready for disposal. It’s all done with the efficiency of someone who has done this before.
Because she has.
When she gets back home and puts the still-wet scalp onto one of the mannequin heads that adorn her under ground dress-up space, we can see many other scalps adorning other mannequins. This is something Clare likes to do, and does often, using the stories the clients have told her about their lives, she wears their scalps and pretends to be them. Using the same mannerisms and habits, she can become someone else, someone not Clare.
Problems arise when she gets an urgent call from Olivia (Brea Grant), who needs help styling her hair before her big wedding. As Clare gets closer to Olivia, she can’t decide if she wants to be her friend, or just be her. Olivia, sensing a growing strangeness in her new friend, withdraws, and this could prove catastrophic for them both.
Written and directed by Jill Gevargizian, this is an artfully rendered film, with some beautiful cinematography and a dreamy quality about much of it. There is a ‘Maniac’ vibe, but mostly because of the scalpings and the mannequins; this is a gentler film than that one, and works harder to create a real person out of the awkward troubled murderer at its centre.
As Clare, Townsend manages to induce sympathy but doesn’t shy away from embracing the insanity of her character, and the sadness of who she could have been. You watch her make mistake after mistake and then commit some truly atrocious acts, but you never hate her, even while you hate what she’s doing.
As for Olivia, the less showy part, Grant imbues her with a freshness and a kindness that makes the inexorableness of the spider web she’s in, that much more difficult to witness; It would have been easy to make her a ‘mean girl’ but she never is.
There aren’t many slashers directed by women, and there aren’t many these days at all; falling out of favour lately with ‘elevated horror’ taking the reins for a while, so it’s interesting to see what a feminine, modern slasher looks like.
This is a car crash movie; you are horrified but cant look away. Its tense and gross and upsetting.
It’s also good.