The Stylist traces the path of a burgeoning serial killer, for sure, but it hits much deeper than that. It’s a tale about loneliness and one woman’s longing to connect with another person. There’s a pain inherent in the protagonist, who lives her life through stories that her clients share. The Stylist is a mesmerizing and enchanting film, rooted in layered human emotion and the ache for connection. Director Jill Gevargizian’s film, based on her short of the same name, feels especially relevant considering a year of lockdowns and communication reduced to texts and Zoom calls.
Najarra Townsend plays Claire, a hair stylist who scalps some of her clients and adorns her basement with their hair like a macabre shrine. In scenes reminiscent of Maniac, the room is filled with glass heads, all wearing different hair styles. Claire tries them on, imagining that she is someone else. Gruesome and blood-soaked, the scalping scenes aren’t for the faint of heart. However, story takes precedence over blood, guts, and gore.
The script, written by Gevargizian, Eric Havens, and Eric Stolze, grounds itself in human emotion and Claire’s story. On the one hand, she’s incredibly intimate with her clients. This is reinforced through the close, tight shots and stunning camera work that show her hands washing and cutting hair. On the other hand, she fails to connect with anyone. It’s not necessarily her fault. They talk to her and rarely, if ever, ask about her day.
Cue Brea Grant’s character Olivia. She’s everything that Claire wants to be. She’s funny, outgoing, and about to marry. The dichotomy between the two leads is reinforced through creative camera work that shows the characters in a split screen, either texting each other or going about their day. This also underscores their drastically different lifestyles. Olivia leads a happy, middle-class life, while Claire works long hours and is single.
Further, the fact that so many of their conversations happen through text reinforces the disconnect and loneliness that Claire feels. Though they do hang out, Claire’s relationship with Olivia is primarily transactional since Olivia wants her to style her hair for the wedding at the last minute. Claire frequently listens to Olivia’s wedding plans and exciting life stories, but the relationship is unequal. Olivia and other clients turn to Claire for service, but that’s the extent of the relationship.
As the film progresses, Claire’s state of mind fractures, drawing some resemblance to Lucky McKee’s brilliant film May (2002). Both movies feature lonely female protagonists who kill the more that their desired relationships flounder. Additionally, the women use the tools of the trade. May (Angela Bettis) hones her skills as a veterinarian’s assistant to kill and create her perfect “friend,” while Claire wields scissors to scalp and dream of a different identity.
Yet, there’s a creeping dread and sense of guilt that builds in The Stylist. Claire fidgets and freaks out when she notices a drip of blood on her boot in a coffee shop. Later, missing person posters torment her, reminding her of her crimes. All this builds to a jaw-dropping crescendo and a beautifully sad, gory ending.
If anything, the film reminds us not to take service workers for granted. They, too, have their own desires, ambitions, and stories. How often do we even ask about their day? The Stylist is a well-scripted, gorgeously shot film, oozing with pathos and human emotion. Add the film to your must-watch list for 2021.
The Stylist currently streams exclusively on ARROW, March 1.
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