The Stylist

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Stylist
"Townsend is fully committed to the role and her performance is as heartbreaking as it is disturbing."

Claire (Najarra Townsend) loves getting to meet new people. That's why she works in hair care, she tells her latest client. The client's barely suppressed smirk is cutting in a different way. Perhaps she wouldn't have made it if she had known that Claire makes a habit of sedating and killing her clients so that she can take their scalps. Then again, perhaps Claire was overstating her position. The truth is that she's desperate to meet new people because she doesn't have a single friend.

Back home in Claire's apartment, everything is fantasy. Subdued pink and golden lighting is further softened by tulle curtains that surround her collection: perfectly preserved heads of hair taken from people who didn't seem to deserve them so that they might be worn by somebody who does. Trying them on before the mirror, Claire carefully makes herself up as if imagining herself in their original owners' shoes. She's already beautiful (Townsend began her career as a model); her craving seems to be focused on the desire to change her life simply because it hurts so much to be herself.

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Though never verbally expressed, this pain is redolent in every aspect of Townsend's performance. The film is essentially a character study, less interested in her antisocial habit than in the place where she has found herself and the seeming impossibility - at least from her limited perspective - of finding a way out. When she meets Olivia (Brea Grant), who wants her to be her wedding stylist, her difficulties escalate further. Not spotting the stylist's desperation straight away, Olivia makes friendly overtures, and soon she is struggling to keep her from invading every aspect of her life. Claire becomes obsessed. The audience can imagine where this might lead, but the trick that director Jill Gevargizian plays is to make us long for a solution for her sake, not for that of the bride-to-be.

Whereas cinema has presented us with endless studies of troubled, murderous men, there has been remarkably little like this. Gevargizian plays with some of the language of giallo but the film is drenched in more conventional feminine imagery and makes a good deal of the little intimacies exchanged in salons and coffee shops, the performative aspects of female socialisation which Claire mistakes for genuine affection. A scene in which she interacts easily with a young girl suggests that she understands the playful hyperfemininity of childhood very well but has never successfully made the adjustment necessary to survive in the adult world. Despite the horror of her actions there is no sense of deliberate cruelty on her part, though we see cruelty inflicted on her on several occasions. When she feels forced to engage directly in violence, she's as shaken by it as anyone else might be.

Townsend is fully committed to the role and her performance is as heartbreaking as it is disturbing. Immersed in her world, it's easy to understand her logic, even whilst aware of its shortcomings. In many ways she is simply trying to perform the actions that all girls and women are encouraged to engage in. Not quite grasping the hypocrisy of it all, she has a strange kind of innocence about her - and that could be very dangerous indeed.

Reviewed on: 24 Feb 2021
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A lonely hair stylist becomes obsessed with the lives of her clients and descends into murderous madness.

Director: Jill Gervagizian

Writer: Jill Gevargizian, Eric Havens, Eric Stolze

Starring: Brea Grant, Najarra Townsend, Laura Kirk, Sarah McGuire, Jennifer Seward, Millie Milan, Kimberly Igla, Kyle Ament, Davis DeRock, Steven Hugh Nelson, Bety Le, Edward Patterson, Pepper, Vienna Maas, Chelsea Brown

Year: 2020

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Frightfest 2020

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