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Fantastic Fest 2020: “The Stylist” Film Review

“The Stylist” is a thrilling and sometimes gruesome film from writer/director Jill Gevargizian. Based on her short film, this feature expands on the life of a lonely hair stylist. It had its World Premiere at Fantastic Fest this year on Saturday, September 26.

Claire (Najarra Townsend) is a stylist in Kansas City, Missouri. She provides an outlet for her clients — both repeat and new — to talk about the ups and downs of their lives. But she also harbors a dark secret involving her obsession with some of her clients. While Claire appears to live a lonely life, accompanied only by her dog Pepper, she knows that the women she works for have family, friends, jobs and other things she wants.

Najarra Townsend in “The Stylist”

The opening scene of “The Stylist” offers so much insight into what the movie is about. Claire tells a new client that, as a stylist, she gets to “go in and out of people’s lives.” The client sticks to an old cliché during the same conversation: “I guess we all want what we don’t have.”

It’s clear that Claire doesn’t necessarily have it wrong; she does seem to go in and out of people’s lives — and not just as a stylist. Yes, her longtime client Olivia (Brea Grant) invites her to have a girls’ night at home with wine and pizza, as well as an outing with her wedding party one night. In these situations, it’s hard not to see Claire’s servile role to her client while the others are in a more relaxed and friendly position. On the other hand, there’s also a barista who knows Claire by name and knows her “usual” order, though she seems not to be more than a blip on Claire’s radar.

More than anything, “The Stylist” is great at portraying the levels of loneliness, anxiety and panic that one can feel in the modern age. Communication is at our fingertips, but that doesn’t make it easy. It’s clear throughout the film that Claire is not OK in more ways than one. You get the feeling that she hates herself, hates being who she is — but she never learned to cope outside the feelings of envy. She even tries to stop her damaging behavior but finds her way back to it eventually. Gevargizian has given us a true antihero here. It’s still somewhat rare to see such a successful complicated portrait of a disturbed woman in media.

Najarra Townsend in “The Stylist”

“Single White Female” (or “The Roommate” for the 2000s crowd) is an easy reference here, given the envy and copycat behavior from one woman to another. But this also has shades of other creative slashers like “Maniac” (both versions) and “May.” If you’ve seen these films, you know that “The Stylist” has the capability to make your muscles tense and your skin crawl.

The story, cinematography, special effects and acting all come together to make a dark and thrilling film that you won’t want to miss. Follow all the Fantastic Fest 2020 coverage here!

Featured image: Brea Grant and Najarra Townsend in “The Stylist”

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