By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

I began my virtual festival with this dark tale of obsession and envy. Writer/director Jill Gervargizian puts a more compelling spin on this type of story by making a psychotic killer the protagonist of her film, and a sympathetic one at that. To make things even more engrossing and enthralling, Gervargizian casts actress Najarra Townsend in the lead role, making the character even more appealing and alluring. Don’t get me wrong, though. As attractive and sweet Townsend comes across, she is most definitely portraying a frightening and disturbing killer in a riveting and sometimes ghastly movie.

Townsend stars as the titular hairstylist Claire. Claire has established a moderately successful career of cutting, combing and styling mostly women’s hair. Though she has great skills, and seems mostly satisfied with her vocation, Claire doesn’t have much else going on in her life. Everyday, she sadly hears about the more interesting, exciting, and “happier” lives of her clients. It soon becomes apparent that occasionally Claire loses her mind and has murdered some of her clients.

To further feed her fantasies of wanting to be more like her envied prey, Claire completely removes the scalps and hair of her victims and wears them as wigs, imagining the kind of life she wishes she had. Things get more complicated, however, when a really likable client named Olivia befriends her. As the two women socially bond while discussing Olivia’s wedding plans and how she would like her hair, Claire envies her, but at the same time feels conflicted as she likes her very much.

With The Stylist, Gervargizian delivers psychologically complex macabre tale with richly developed characters and a mostly relatable protagonist killer. As dark, disturbing, and revolting the nasty habits of Claire can get, the audiences gets to see and experience her heartbroken side and it really is hard not to feel some sympathy towards her. As I hinted above, I was truly impressed with the complex performance of actress Najarra Townsend who absolutely shines brightly.

As Claire’s new confidant, friend and client Olivia, Brea Grant gives a great performance as well. Gervargizian and Grant do some excellent work in developing a very likable source of Claire’s envy and admiration. Unlike some of her more smug and loathsome clients/victims, Olivia seems more grounded and kind-hearted than the usual clients who don’t seem to deserve or appreciate the more exciting lives they have.

This movie brought my virtual Celebration of Fantastic Fest to a great start and it is a film I sincerely hope reaches swarms of horror fans all over the world. To be honest, the name Jill Gervargizian is one that had escaped my memory if I had previously seen any of her work, but from now on, I will always remember that she is the great talent who helmed The Stylist.

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