It’s difficult to open up to people, isn’t it? We all have our secrets and if they’re disclosed, the person listening can either tell others, judge you for it, or use it against you. And yet, as humans, we yearn for a personal connection with someone that we can trust with our innermost thoughts, desires, and secret personal lives. Writer/director Jill Gevargizian fervidly addresses this need for connection through the lonely life of a hairdresser in The Stylist.
The film follows Claire (Najarra Townsend), a talented hairdresser based in Kansas City who enjoys making small talk with her clients and meeting new people. In the opening scene, she expresses why she loves her job so much. “You get to go in and out of people’s lives…you hear stories…give life advice…it’s almost like having a family,” Claire tells a new transient client. However, working late nights is also a perk at her job because it allows her to engage in more sinister acts. A frequent client named Olivia (Brea Grant) texts Claire with an emergency request to see if she can style her hair for her wedding. Hesitant at first, Claire reluctantly agrees and begins to slowly form a rare friendship.
Claire’s social anxiety gradually increases throughout the film despite her efforts to break out of her shell. Text messages pop up on the screen between her and Olivia in which Claire types out a response, but then quickly deletes it and writes something else. Even when she goes to buy her usual cup of coffee, she keeps her head down and does not engage in small talk with the barista who clearly remembers Claire as well as her order each time she comes in. As Claire and Olivia grow closer, it is evident that Claire not only suffers from anxiety and self-esteem issues, but personal boundaries as well. Olivia is a vibrant, friendly, and outgoing individual – the polar opposite from Claire, in fact. She desperately wants to insert herself deeper into her life, but her erratic behavior starts to alarm those closest to Olivia. The interactions between the two women steadily shift over time as Claire’s obsession with Olivia grows.
On the one hand, Claire is a sympathetic character. Making friends as an adult can be just as difficult as making friends as an adolescent, and Claire’s longing for a personal connection is somewhat heartbreaking. Townsend is able to successfully fluctuate her emotions in order to garner empathy, while Grant gives an effortless performance of sweetness and inclusion serving as a cushion between the more maniacal nature of Claire herself. The narrative takes its time to unravel Claire’s obsession but unfortunately does not provide an in-depth backstory to her character, which makes the pacing of the film somewhat strained. Despite a couple of hints at trauma and neglect, Claire is a tragic figure who does not have an origin point from which her true motives grow. This vacancy would have been interesting to explore since she is an alluring and multi-dimensional character, even on the surface.
Gevargizian utilizes dreamy scene transitions throughout the film which bring a soft, textured feel to the cinematography and editing. This technical approach emphasizes Claire’s fragility and the client’s trust that her profession allows her prey upon. There’s a delicacy to the camerawork which counterbalances the close-up headshots of Claire after she has succumbed to her urges. Cinematographer Robert Patrick Stern utilizes warm lighting tones during moments of social distress and violent scenes which deepen the emotional intensity of Claire’s otherwise concealed viciousness. The graphic nature of Claire’s actions towards her victims both emotional and physical are also extremely effective. Her particular style of execution is both menacing and meticulous, serving up a satisfying amount of blood and gore reminiscent of William Lustig’s Maniac. The longing for emotional connection and obsessive nature towards forming friendships also alludes to Lucky McKee’s May.
The Stylist is a delicately deranged glimpse into social anxiety and loneliness. Its beautiful cinematography and camerawork is supported with a gruesome ferocity that aptly captures the emotional pain of the film’s main character. Based on her short film of the same name, Gevargizian’s feature successfully delivers an alluring and brutal portrait of what it can possibly look like to want what we don’t have.
/Film Rating; 7.5 out of 10
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