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Stylist, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Sharp and gory."
5 stars

Claire (Najarra Townsend) is a hair stylist, and a good one. A loner who lives with a limping little dog, her attempts at small talk with her clients are a bit awkward, but she’s trusted enough to get a wedding-hairdo gig for Olivia (Brea Grant), a hard-charging magazine editor. What Olivia doesn’t know is that Claire is lonely to the point of psychosis.

In her basement, Claire keeps an assortment of pretty scalps on glass mannequin heads; she tries on each one and pretends to be the woman she scalped. The Stylist, cowritten and directed by Jill Gevargizian, is an expansion of her 2016 short film (you can watch the short on YouTube). Here and there the burn is slow, but the feature doesn’t feel padded. Claire is part Leatherface and part Frank from the gory cult horror film Maniac, and almost every frame is devoted to her.

The difference between Gevargizian’s film and the recent Saint Maud, which also concerns a deeply troubled young woman and her thorny relation to the outside world, is that Gevargizian is simply a better filmmaker who knows when to sprinkle some humor, some humanity, some suspense. The Stylist is far-fetched but emotionally readable. It’s not going to show us the nuts and bolts of how exactly Claire has been getting away with her hobby; that part isn’t very important to Gevargizian, the disposal of bodies and so forth, not to mention how Claire poisons or drugs her victims so that she can scalp in peace. We wait uneasily for one of the unwilling hair donors to blink awake. More than once, Claire finds herself somewhere she shouldn’t be, and manages to hide or flee smoothly enough that we may wonder how much of her nocturnal activity is real.

A lot of this will crumble apart if subjected to too much literal scrutiny, so let’s not. Gevargizian intends The Stylist as a bloody, wincing metaphor for yearning for someone else’s life. A hair stylist herself, Gevargizian knows how well-heeled women talk to those they consider their servants, even if they fancy themselves too liberal to use that word for people who, in fact, serve them. Women frequently complain to Claire about their cushy but dull lives, not knowing they’re talking to someone who would gladly take over those lives. Claire never really does, though. She doesn’t go out on the town with her new identity as a blonde or a brunette; she sits in front of a mirror in her basement lair and talks to herself, echoing her victims’ dialogue. Even her insane method of self-actualization is smothered in secrecy — and isolation.

Claire’s ultimate project would appear to be Olivia, though it’s by no means clear that Claire would know what to do with Olivia’s life if she had it. As the movie approaches Olivia’s wedding, we wonder how it will play out; will Claire snap out of it and give up her extracurriculars, or will Gevargizian jump into the deep end along with Claire? That’s the source of most of the suspense and dread in The Stylist. Unlike the critically lionized Saint Maud, this film is actually about something besides the degraded mood of watching a sad woman deteriorate beyond help. It seems concerned with different strains of resentment — between women, and between socioeconomic classes. It follows a cracked protagonist without making the mistake of excusing her — or condemning her.

It’s also one hell of a gnarly horror film, and one that has no shame whatsoever about that.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=34150&reviewer=416
originally posted: 02/25/21 16:33:15
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  01-Mar-2021 (NR)

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