Celebrated shorts director Jill Gevargizian steps it up a notch with this sumptuously shot low-rent serial killer drama; a mature, empathetic adaptation of her well-regarded short of the same name, that expands on its eponymous lead in all the right ways.
Surprisingly powerful in its execution, Gevargizian’s full-blooded The Stylist tackles gentle loner Claire (Najarra Townsend); a hair stylist with a murderous secret, who uses her trusted (and largely anonymous) position cutting hair to silently obsess over the lives of her glamorous customers, before ending them for good. But when a particularly friendly new bride-to-be (indie horror legend Brea Grant) gets a little too close for comfort, Claire finds her hyper-repressed exterior slowly starting to break apart at the seams, with the violent killer within sprawling out for all to see.
And despite a fair few grisly moments (played out with some beautifully realised practical effects), it’s this central character conflict and Townsend’s quietly affecting lead performance that mark this as a particularly worthy new instalment in the psycho killer underworld. Claire’s about as mousy as murderers come, and there’s such a huge amount of empathy for her here that; even after watching her scalp numerous innocents and prance about wearing their hair as her own (not quite as hokey as it sounds), we really feel her plight at every turn.
Both Townsend and Gevargizian have done their homework, and it shows; this is prime psycho horror, put together with extraordinary attention to detail and laser focus. Never once do we stray from Claire’s journey for any extra-curricular blood letting, and the violence itself is imbued with the perfect amount of personality and closeness; every single kill means something to Claire and to us. Far from violence as simple spectacle, and always so beautifully character-lead.
Even as the pace starts to drop in the film’s final third, it’s these details and the film’s design that really keep Claire’s world alive and the tension ramped all the way up. Unsurprisingly a stylist herself, Gevargizian and her entire team never stop stretching their crowdfunded budget; from Robert Patrick Stern’s hyper-sharp cinematography, to Sarah Sharp’s stellar production design, every inch of this film screams money that it definitely didn’t have, keeping things far from the sort of cheap slasher that the price-tag might have certain crowds expecting.
With heavy shades of Khalfoun/Aja’s Maniac remake, as well as classic horror mainstays like Carrie and Psycho, and powered by a particularly exciting all-female energy, The Stylist does a huge amount with very little and will hopefully land as a standout calling card for Gevargizian and her team. A real win for indie horror.