Written by Kim Morrison
After the success of her 2016 short The Stylist, director and co-writer Jill Gevargizian is back with a feature-length version of the story which follows killer hairstylist Claire (Najarra Townsend) and her pursuit of perfection.
We meet Claire as a late-night client, Sarah (Jennifer Seward), pops into her hair salon for a colour touch-up. Claire is an attentive hairstylist, providing wine for her client and the standard type of chit-chat we expect when we head to the hairdressers. Not long into the conversation, Sarah reveals that she travels a lot of work, and she’s currently having an affair while on this work trip. She comments that she feels comfortable telling Claire her secrets because the odds of her ever seeing her again or spilling her secret are incredibly low. And while this is true, she doesn’t bank on Claire having drugged her wine. Pretty much as soon as Sarah has fallen unconscious, Claire has sliced her scalp off with her hairdressing scissors, and taken it home to her basement lair.
By the time the credits of The Stylist hit, we’re pretty much up to speed with the story of the short film version. It was nice to set the original story up so quickly for those who haven’t seen the short and allow the audience to dive deeper into Claire’s story as soon as possible. However, this version of The Stylist is really a story of two women. Obviously, there’s Claire, but there’s also Olivia (Brea Grant), one of Claire’s regular clients who desperately needs someone to do her wedding hair and is trying to convince Claire to help her. Claire is standoffish about doing wedding hair but soon gives into Olivia’s pleas.
Olivia is the complete opposite of Claire, as we see through split-screen shots or shots which switch between the two characters. Olivia is confident, works in an exciting-looking job, and knows what she wants in life. Claire is seen scrutinising her appearance, eating lunch alone in her kitchen, and only showing any kind of bond with her dog. However, agreeing to help Olivia proves beneficial to Claire, as Olivia invites her over for a girl’s night to see her wedding dress.
Claire clearly doesn’t have any friends, except a passing acceptance with her workmates and the woman who serves her coffee in the coffee shop, but she’s incredibly open to forming a friendship with Olivia. However, in Claire’s case, she wants a close friendship so badly that when it doesn’t go exactly the way she wants it to, she ends up more upset and closed off than she was before. The added stress that comes with trying to appear normal and please Olivia so that their friendship will blossom quickly starts to take its toll on Claire, which was never going to turn out well considering we know she has a thing for murder as it is.
In Claire, we’re given the best-dressed serial killer since Patrick Bateman. Her wardrobe is an autumnal paint chart, with her hair always perfectly curled. Even her killer’s lair, full of the scalps of other women, has a dreamy feel to it. Full of candles and vintage accessories it feels more like a witch’s altar than a place of death. And yet, Claire cannot find satisfaction in who she is, and she’s forever hoping that taking a little piece of other women home with her will finally make her complete. Claire herself comments that as a hairstylist, she dips in and out of people’s lives all the time. She finds out a little bit about how these women live and tries to steal it for herself. However, it clearly doesn’t work, and she’s left unfulfilled, and forever searching for the thing that will give her enough comfort and peace to stop killing.
Claire has to be one of the most sympathetic serial killers that have ever been depicted on-screen. Claire standing teary-eyed in the wine shop, worrying about making the wrong choice and embarrassing herself in front of her new friend, or hiding in the club bathroom because she feels uncomfortable were both scenes I related to on a personal level. I’m sure anyone that has ever felt extreme anxiety would feel the same. Claire is trying her best to put a brave face on things, and yet it’s clear that she’s crumbling under the surface.
However, Claire is extremely frustrating to watch as well. You’re yelling at the screen for her to stop making terrible decisions, as she’s constantly digging herself a deeper hole, and placing herself in more danger. Claire recognises this herself, as she’s continually frustrated with herself when she slips up, frequently crying in her car or throwing her phone across the room. Claire desperately needs help, and yet, because she has no one around her to open up to about her issues, she’s forced to deal with her problems using her untraditional coping mechanism.
The thing I found most frustrating about Claire’s character was I didn’t feel we delved deep enough into her problems. I wanted a little more explanation into what had happened in her past, especially with her parents, which had led her to this point. It felt as though we were always skimming the surface of Claire’s story, hinting that we were about to get more insight into her, but it never came. I was glad we got to learn more about the character than was presented in the short film, but it felt like there was more insight just beyond our grasp, that we never managed to reach.
As the film heads towards the climax, I had a feeling that I knew where things were going, though I slightly hoped that I was wrong because it was so devastating. Horror movies can so often fall apart as they near the end, but The Stylist offers one of the best closing five minutes of any horror movie in recent memory. An ending like this seems inevitable, and yet you hope that Claire can find happiness and some stability in her life. I think making us side with a serial killer, and one who doesn’t even have a moral compass when it comes to who they kill is incredibly impressive. That’s what makes The Stylist so special, and I’m very excited to see what Jill Gevargizian does next!
Rating: 4 out of 5