Making its UK premiere at Frightfest this past weekend, writer/director Jill Sixx Gevargizian brings us The Stylist...
...A little bit May and a little bit Maniac, the film shows an anxiety-ridden serial killer who’s lonely existence pushes her to murder. Living as a wallflower, main character Claire (Najarra Townsend) never establishes much of an identity for herself, instead fantasizing about the lives around her. Working as a stylist gets her brief tastes of lives more fulfilling than her own as each client offers up a new identity. To Claire, hair makes a woman, so every head she sees becomes the possibility to be someone else. If only she could have their hair for her own.
Claire has been working as a hair stylist for some time and enjoys her job but finds difficulty in performing the friendly patter required in her profession. Choosing to work alone late one night, Claire meets Sarah (Jennifer Seward) a woman in town “on business” in need of a little work on her hair. After knowing each other for only a few minutes, the late-night client reveals she is having an affair. Sarah claims her willingness to divulge such personal information with Claire results from the stylist/client relationship, which allows for secrets to be shared confidentially. The director further pushes the intimacy of the relationship as a seductive dance of wine and hair-play leads the client to making herself a little too vulnerable.
While working on Sarah, Claire admits she finds her job rewarding because she gains the trust of her clients and earns glimpses into their lives, but she also gets a more sinister recompence. The woman in the chair (most likely poisoned by the wine) becomes incapacitated, allowing Claire to perform a slow and meticulous removal of the client’s scalp. Reminiscent of Sweeney Todd, the stylist reveals her prized silver scissors and slices into her victim. The slow, unforgiving action of stabbing, dragging the scissors across the scalp, and then digging her fingers into the hairline and painstakingly pulling back the flesh shows the sick dedication Claire puts into her craft. However, the removal of the scalp does not come from vengeance or the necessity for food, but as a means of mimicry so Claire can escape herself.
After work, the stylist returns to her dark and muted home, greeted only by her tiny dog. The house seems large and in disarray, but the area of the house she seems to enjoy the most is the cellar, her underground stylist lair where she keeps her trophies and can play make-believe. Claire dolls herself up with the newly acquired hair and finds herself chipper when she imitates the recently deceased. When in the real world, Claire struggles to converse and express herself even with people she sees on a regular basis. Her lack of confidence socially stifles her, and the awkwardness becomes even more apparent in physical contact. Only when wearing another woman’s hair can Claire find a voice and enjoy herself.
To further demonstrate the stylist’s social ineptitude, the director creates a split screen to compare the life of Claire with the much more adjusted Olivia (Brea Grant) who lives a bright and energetic life, complete with a sunny home and doting fiancé. Later, the connection between the two women becomes revealed when Olivia texts Claire with a “wedding hair emergency.” The De Palma style split screen showcases the skills of both leads as Townsend and Grant’s characters exist on opposite ends of social abilities, which makes the unfortunate Olivia Claire’s new target.
Visually, the vivid reds and bright yellow associated with Claire’s hair and wardrobe should make her more detectable and stand out against more neutral outfits, but Claire still manages to fade into the background, never existing as more than a stranger to everyone around her. In social settings Claire does not contribute much to conversations and instead relies on small talk and passive agreements to continue human interaction. However, her victims do not seem to notice they dominate the conversation and, when someone actually thinks to ask Claire a question, the stylist struggles to perform as a social equal and her response becomes a source of mental and emotional anguish as she later fixates on her behavior. Some socially awkward people obsess over their interactions and lie awake at night, robbing themselves of sleep because their thoughts will not stop punishing them with a repetitive analysis of even the slightest of embarrassments. Claire falls into this category and finds herself so painfully and implacably awkward, she can only find peace when she can become someone else.
Incapable of finding a voice for herself, Claire pursues a violent and deadly desire for imitation, but also a neurotic form of collecting. A sick kleptomania which drives her to take the lives of others. The film highlights living with anxiety and we observe the unhinged stalker as she follows her obsession. The awkwardness and obsessiveness that drive the plot will leave some viewers uncomfortable, which is the intention of the film. Some secrets also never become revealed; the director never shares with us much about Claire’s past, nor does she uncover the trauma that pushed her to murder. But, to be honest, how much do you know about your stylist?
By Amylou Ahava