THE STYLIST (2020)
Fantastic Fest 2020
Directed by Jill Sixx Gevargizian
For 2014’s Frels Fright Fest film festival, we brought down actress Najarra Townsend for a special Q&A to coincide with her starring role in the horror film “Contracted." This was around the same time director Jill Sixx Gevargizian was making her debut with the horror short “Call Girl.” In 2016 their paths crossed which led to the critically acclaimed award-winning short “The Stylist” directed by Gevargizian with Townsend playing a demented hairstylist; think of a female version of Leatherface. With the help of Kickstarter, a feature-length adaption just made its World Premiere at Fantastic Fest 2020 and it’s just as great as expected.
“The Stylist” follows in the footsteps of “The Babadook,” “Ju-On: The Grudge,” “When a Stranger Calls,” and “Trick ‘R Treat,” short films that were expanded into horror features. Gevargizian, with the help of writers Eric Havens and Eric Stolze, expands the premise of the 2016 short thus giving us a better glimpse into the mind of lonely stylist Claire, once again played by Townsend; You may think twice about heading into a salon after hours to get your hair done.
We all have a friend that we live vicariously through, hairdressers probably have a few. The armchair psychologists develop close relationships with their clients who usually loosen up after a few drinks. Claire takes her vicarious fascination with her customers one step further after probably watching too many westerns or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Townsend is terrific in the role.
Fellow Texan and UT alum Brea Grant — best known for her role as Daphne Millbrook on NBC’s “Heroes” — plays Olivia, a regular client, who texts Claire with a request; She’s getting married and needs her hair done for the wedding. Claire responds that she doesn’t do weddings but sensing Olivia’s desperation she agrees. Olivia is ecstatic with the results, so she invites the socially anxious Claire to her bachelorette party and the wedding.
“The Stylist” becomes a female obsession film in the tradition of “Single White Female” and “Ingrid Goes West” leading to a few awkward moments. Townsend gives us an authentic and disturbing look into the psyche of obsessive Claire. It’s a treat to see the actress alongside Grant, giving the viewer two scream queens for the price of one. Director of Photography Robert Patrick Stern gives the film a warm glow; The vibrant evening scenes standout the way Robert Elswit framed “Nightcrawler.”
Expanding a short film to feature-length can be hit or miss. Jill Sixx Gevargizian nails it after creating a character that horror fans were ready to embrace.