The slasher genre is bursting with a devilish selection of murderers, each with their own defining characteristics and explorations of gender. The Stylist, the directorial debut from Jill Gevargizian, comes with a female killer unlike any before it.
Claire (Najarra Townsend) is a timid and silent professional stylist, clumsily interacting with her clients daily. On the surface, Claire is seemingly an average young woman, living an average life. In the opening scene, she proclaims she adores her profession as it allows her to come in and out of people’s lives, offering advice and comfort for those in need of a wig bash. However, a wig bash is usually more than her clients receive, as she drugs and scalps them with ease, turning her own work on their luscious locks into trophies for her personal wig collection.
Adapted from her short of the same name, writer and director Jill Gevargizian weaves a magnitude of genuine coolness into every character. Oliva (Brea Grant), one of Claire’s usual clients — indicating she at least keeps some of them alive for financial purposes — is in desperate need of a hairstylist for her wedding day. Reluctant to get involved, Claire declines and Oliva pursues her, kick starting the compulsive chase for connection between the two. Consumed by her desperate desire to be someone else, Claire sees an opportunity for normality in Oliva. The stylist’s life begins to spiral and with it goes her self-control. Reckless and irrational, Claire slices her way through everything to be there for Oliva.
Like every psycho killer, Claire is methodical and rigorous in her practice. Cool, crisp shots of her hairdressing tools show the feminine aspects the slasher genre is often missing. Her weapon of choice isn’t the classic machete, or a kitchen knife. Rather, she opts for the use of her hairdressing scissors, as she slices and rips the scalp clean off her clients.
This refreshing take on the slasher genre provides insight into the horrors of social anxiety through a lens of femininity. Throughout much of the film Claire is awkward and unable to connect with anyone (apart from her lovely little pooch, a tiny detail that grounds her within the realms of relatable realness). The only time we see Claire truly centred and calm is when she’s killing. Every other aspect of her life is riddled with angst. This washes the film with a wave of sympathetic understanding, leaving you almost rooting for her as she murders pretty much everyone within reach. Scenes of uncomfortable texting and obsessive internet stalking ooze with tension, a tension we all find ourselves experiencing in daily life. Bearing witness to Claire’s social struggles provides an underpinning of real human emotion which allows the rest of the narrative to play out at its own pace.
It can be difficult to craft a killer with such kindness and humanity, yet Gevargizian presents us one so desperate and disconnected, its impossible to not feel any sort of connection towards Claire. By presenting her perspective, Gevargizian conjures a whole new level of creep, one that lurks and lingers whilst giving you the haircut you so desperately needed. A killer that makes you feel good, relaxing you whilst waiting for that moment of vulnerability.
The Stylist leaves many questions unanswered, with Claire’s tragic origin story purposely vague. This may be a disappointing attribute for some, although the mystery surrounding her motivations make the narrative that much more fun.
The Stylist screened at the virtual version of Final Girls Berlin between February 4th-7th. It will also be available to stream on Arrow Video from March 1st
by Kelsie Dickinson