Director: Jill Gevargizian
Screenplay: Jill Gevargizian, Eric Havens, Eric Stolze
Starring: Najarra Townsend, Brea Grant, Davis DeRock
BBFC Certification: 18
On paper, The Stylist sounds like the perfect horror treat, offering the kind of fun, trashy synopsis that seems custom made for a movie drive-in on a Saturday night. Claire (Najarra Townsend) is a talented hair stylist who leads a double life as a vicious serial killer. When the opportunity arises, the quiet, seemingly shy Claire kills, then scalps, her clients. She then takes her gruesome trophy home, to add it to her macabre collection of stolen scalps that she keeps hidden in her basement.
However gruesomely horrific and fun this may sound to genre fans, the first ten minutes of Jill Gevargizian’s feature debut proves that The Stylist is aiming to be something slightly different. The opening sequence, which introduces us to Claire and one of her victims, is gracefully constructed and imbued with a strong sense of control and restraint. When violence does arrive, unflinchingly and brutally, it never feels gratuitous. And when Claire returns her grisly prize to her basement, it is clear that this is a character who feels more tragically human than monstrous. In short, The Stylist is aiming to be something more than just a twisted slasher.
The film’s main plot, for a start, feels like it belongs more to a dark thriller than a horror film. Claire, who usually refuses to do ‘wedding hair’ for her customers, eventually relents under pressure from Olivia (Brea Grant), whose marriage is swiftly approaching. Claire soon becomes obsessed with Olivia, envying her seemingly perfect and successful life. Olivia, in turn, befriends Claire and welcomes her into her world, introducing her to her fiancée and friends, completely unaware of how deep Claire’s obsession is growing…
As the film unfolds, it becomes clear that The Stylist is actually more of a melancholy character study than anything else. Focusing on themes of isolation and alienation, along with the peculiarly modern obsession of envying other people’s supposedly superior lives, The Stylist feels refreshing in that its protagonist is motivated by recognisable human frailties rather than just a base desire to kill. This is born out by the significant lack of murders in the film. Most of the time, Gevargizian is more interested in the minutiae of awkward social encounters or the pathos evoked by lonely people trying to fit in with a world they desperately want to belong to.
In this pursuit, Gevargizian is ably assisted by her two female leads. Brea Grant brings just the right amount of charisma to the role of Olivia, being both gregarious and steely when required, while Najarra Townsend works wonders in adding depth and meaning to a character who, it has it be said, is given the bare minimum of motivation or background by the film’s script.
And therein, unfortunately, lies The Stylist’s biggest flaw. Gevargizian mentions several times during the film’s extras that she didn’t want to give Claire too much of a background, as she felt it would be better for the audience to fill in this gap for themselves. While this is certainly a useful storytelling technique, its application in The Stylist is badly deployed, ultimately robbing the audience of understanding and, more crucially, empathy when it comes to Claire’s mental anguish. Gevargizian and her co-writers Eric Havens and Eric Stolze certainly hint at her past, but nothing is ever expanded upon that would enrich Claire as a character. As a result, as her obsession grows steadily worse, you find yourself feeling removed from both Claire’s dilemma and the central plot.
Ultimately, it is hard to understand exactly why Claire hates her life and herself so much. For a start, she is good at her job and owns a wonderfully large, gothic looking house. Material possessions, of course, don’t equate to happiness, but Claire’s sense of worthlessness and invisibility is further undermined by her being presented in every scene as both strikingly beautiful and stunningly, stylishly dressed. By presenting a character who, objectively at least, should have little reason to feel or act the way she does, the film then fails to offer any deeper answers or motivations. The longer the film goes on, the harder it is to empathise. Or, indeed, care.
The Stylist at least lives up to its title by being a continually ravishing watch. Fantastic production design and gorgeously rich, dusky cinematography continually elevate the film, while the musical score by Nicholas Elert matches the visuals in creepy opulence. Gevargizian keeps a steady, stately hand over proceedings too. For a feature debut, The Stylist should certainly put her on the map.
Yet, for all the technical accomplishments and its refreshing angle on the serial killer genre, The Stylist ultimately leaves you feeling unsatisfied. Compared to the similarly themed St. Maud, released last year and also featuring an isolated and lonely female protagonist, The Stylist comes nowhere near to matching that film’s depth, insight or emotional power. Instead, the film ultimately comes across as a tragic story that feels curiously devoid of emotion.
Having neither the depth to succeed as fully rounded character study nor being gory or scary enough to become a genre standout, The Stylist therefore languishes somewhere in-between a drama and a horror, being neither dramatically gripping or scarily thrilling enough to recommend to fans of either.
The Stylist comes out on a stacked 2 Disc special edition by Arrow this June. The picture quality is suburb throughout, with rich, deep colours and beautifully inky blacks. The film, quite simply, looks absolutely gorgeous throughout, at points almost looking like a 4K presentation! And for fans of the film, Arrow have presented them with quite the package…
2-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
- Limited Edition Blu-ray™ and Soundtrack CD collection
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- Original DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck
- Double-sided fold-out poster
- Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Emma Westwood and a gallery of exclusive location scouting photographs
DISC ONE (BLU-RAY) – THE STYLIST
- Audio commentary by co-writer/producer/director Jill Gevargizian and actress/producer Najarra Townsend
- Exclusive Blu-ray introduction by Jill Gevargizian
- The Invisible Woman, an exclusive visual essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, exploring the themes of women’s labor and female killers in The Stylist and horror cinema
- The Stylist – Behind the Scenes, a series of eight behind-the-scenes featurettes on different aspects of the film’s production, featuring interviews with the cast and crew
- Location scouting featurette
- Original Kickstarter video
- The original 2016 The Stylist short film directed by Jill Gevargizian and starring Najarra Townsend, that inspired the main feature
- Pity, a 2016 short film directed by The Stylist’s editor, John Pata, and executive produced by Jill Gevargizian, with an optional introduction by Pata
- Teaser trailer
- Theatrical trailer
- Image galleries
DISC TWO (CD) – THE STYLIST SOUNDTRACK (LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE)
- CD containing the original The Stylist Soundtrack
Commentary: The first key extra is a commentary from director Jill Gevargizian and Najarra Townsend. Due to the global pandemic, the commentary proves to be the first time they have actually sat down and watched the finished film together. They prove to be great hosts, with lots of easy going conversation and trivia flowing between them throughout the film. Gevargizian ends up speaking more than Townsend throughout and by the end, there doesn’t seem to be one element of the production that hasn’t been covered. Aside from a few moments of silence that occur, this is an entertaining and fun commentary bursting with trivia and info.
The Stylist – Behind the Scenes: Despite being comprised of several short making-ofs that can be played individually, this is essentially one hour long documentary that covers the film from its inception to the final wrap. Featuring talking heads of almost every key cast and crew member, along with great behind the scenes footage, this provides a wealth of further information and background info on the making of The Stylist. Some of the same ground is covered in the commentary, but it is fascinating to hear thoughts and analysis from other key cast and crew members.
The Invisible Woman: This is a far more critical analysis of The Stylist by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. Using The Stylist as a launchpad, she discusses how female labour is typically presented in cinema and how there has been a shift in modern horror that focuses more exclusively on this. She also offers a really interesting (albeit brief) analysis of male and female serial killers and the differences of how they are often presented in cinema. Depending on your tolerance for this kind of critical analysis, this is a really interesting extra feature that helps you to see The Stylist in a new light.
Location Scouting: This is a short 4 minute visual comparison that begins by highlighting slug lines in the film’s script, showing that location via behind the scenes production photos, then finally that location in the finished film. This is fairly interesting, up to a point, but some extra information from the film’s production designer would have been beneficial.
Outtakes: This is a bunch of fairly amusing outtakes from the shooting of the film. There is nothing much that is hilarious or memorable here, but this would still be interesting for fans.
Kickstarter Video: The Stylist was partly funded by a Kickstarter campaign. This is the video used for that Kickstarter campaign, hosted by the director Jill Gevargizian. Interesting for fans of the film, of course – but also for those looking into how to make a successful Kickstarter video!
Short Films: The disc contains two short films. The first is The Stylist, the successful short film directed by Gevargizian upon which the feature film is based. If you watch the feature film first, the original short proves to be a fascinating watch, not only for seeing what is familiar compared to the feature film but also to see what has changed. The short film actually takes some surprising directions and feels far more like a typical ‘horror’. This is an absolutely essential watch for fans of The Stylist and proves to be a brilliantly creepy and powerful short film in its own right. Pity, the second short included (this time directed by The Stylist’s editor, John Pata) is far less successful. A kind of horror/noir hybrid, this feels like a deleted scene from Sin City, where there certainly seems to be more style than substance.
CD Soundtrack: Arrow have very generously included the soundtrack for the film with this release. The first track contains a sample of the key theme and score by Nicholas Elert, where the rest of the soundtrack is made up of pop/rock songs that featured in the film (although, it has too be said, there were a fair few I didn’t remember hearing at all during my viewing!)
The rest of the disc is rounded out with trailers and image galleries (one of which just seems to replicate the content seen the location scouting extra, which is odd). The limited edition also comes with a booklet and poster, neither of which I received with my review copy.
Even though I was left a little cold by The Stylist, there is no doubt that Arrow have delivered a beautiful and utterly comprehensive package. If you are a fan of the film, this is an essential purchase.