The Stylist (Final Girls Berlin) review – sharply observed and stylish horror about loneliness and craving

February 5, 2021
Alix Turner 0
Film Reviews
4

Summary

Sharply observed, tense and stylish horror about loneliness and craving, with a remarkable central performance.

4

Summary

Sharply observed, tense and stylish horror about loneliness and craving, with a remarkable central performance.

Let me see if I can review The Stylist without giving away what she does with her scissors: I’ll focus on the stylist herself, as the film does.

Claire (Najarra Townsend) is a quiet, modest, but also very well regarded hairdresser in central Kansas City. She’s the sort that customers talk to, unloading whatever is on their minds simply because she listens and she is outside their situation. They never suspect how much Claire obsesses about their sophisticated or scandalous lives, or how she finds it easier to role-play their lives (with the help of souvenirs) than to be herself. Claire has a private space for dressing up and self-expression and embraces the outlet she finds there as it is too much to expect that she might become part of those cliques one day. That changes when Olivia (Brea Grant) persuades Claire to style her hair for her wedding: does she persevere with the unusual social cues or target Olivia with another unbalanced obsession?

There you have it: The Stylist might sound like a Hollywood stalker film, but the range of awkward moods brought May to my mind several times. Claire and the film alike are alternately tense and timid, impulsive and tentative. It’s fascinating to watch her losing sight of boundaries: she had been so used to keeping herself and her (somewhat extreme) pastimes to herself, but she becomes more daring as Olivia draws her out of her shell. I really felt for Claire during some clumsy conversations and social scenes and dared to hope that she might be able to adjust. Somehow – again as in May – there is an unrelenting sense of doom about her story though.

Unlike May, The Stylist is a vibrant film. Sumptuous lights, colors, clothing, and music surround everything Claire does: it’s easy to see how they dazzle her. I loved Robert Patrick Stern’s lush cinematography, especially the way it became intimate and expert when Claire was engaged in her craft. I could almost feel the hair, the water, and the fingers, just like when watching Strickland’s Cold Meridian.

Najarra Townsend gives an admirably restrained performance a lot of the time; even when Claire is ending someone’s life. Claire does unravel (even more) as the film goes on, but somehow Townsend still keeps a handle on her part: there is sensitivity in her portrayal of this loss of grip, and she avoids melodrama, even during moments of violence and the memorable ending. No wonder she won Best Actress when The Stylist screened its UK premiere at FrightFest last October.

The Stylist was directed by Jill Gevargizian, who also wrote it along with Eric Havens and Eric Stolze, based on her earlier short film of the same name. The direction was superb, in the pacing, the subtle changes in the human connections; I hardly noticed the time passing. I admire the writing even more though, especially in the character writing of Claire herself: her loneliness and remove from the people around her are clear, but Gevargizian leaves utterly open to interpretation any reason behind those traits. Does Claire want to be her confident clients because unconsciously she desires them, or is it simple envy taken to a violent extreme? She finds fitting in painfully difficult, but is that because she doesn’t know how to be herself, or is it vice versa? I’m glad that it’s not spelled out: we follow Claire herself throughout the film and if she’s not switched on to herself, why should we be?

The Stylist has its German premiere at Final Girls Berlin Film Festival, and Arrow will be releasing it within the next few months. In the meantime, thankfully, I’m cutting my own hair.

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