In a rare move, we have updated the score from a 4 to a 5 because this one time, we were a bit off. A further explanation can be found at the bottom of the post.
Based on the short film by the same name, The Stylist is a story of obsession, loneliness, and madness. It can be debated how good of a story it is, but it’s at the very least a well-executed one.
The talented but lonely Claire (Najarra Townsend) is the eponymous stylist. Often working as the only hairdresser in her salon at night, she has a tendency to drug and scalp her clients. The loot is kept in her basement, and it looks to be a pursuit that has gone on for quite some time.
(Presumably, she also kills her victims, but this isn’t really addressed – the authorities don’t come checking the last known location of the missing persons. Nor do any customers come back complaining about their scalps missing. Too, when Claire does commit an on-screen murder, she seems badly shaken, like it was her first time. But regardless.)
Olivia (Brea Grant) is seemingly Claire’s polar opposite. Outgoing and social, she is about to get married, and even though Claire usually doesn’t work weddings, she makes an exception for one of her favorite clients.
It’s clear that Claire likes Olivia, and when the bride-to-be invites her to her bachelorette party, it is equally obvious that Olivia is in no state to make friends. She turns possessive of Claire and vocally disapproves of her husband-to-be. Increasingly, her behavior dials up from being awkward to becoming a stalker.
There are many things to like about The Stylist, though aspects of it are shaky. The opening scene, for example, looks to be based on the original short (I have never watched it, alas), and I’m not entirely sure if it does a good job setting up the main character. Claire does, of course, scalp the client, but why? Possibly because she dislikes her promiscuousness? Maybe? There is little to suggest that puritanism is a major tick of hers throughout the rest of the film. Claire may disapprove of Olivia’s fiancée, but that feels more like a byproduct of her obsession with Olivia.
What the opening amounts to is a five-minute scene that reminds me of actually getting my hair cut, incessant small talk and all. This is not helped by a soundtrack that sounds like something from a daytime soap opera.
Which is all weird, as much of the movie feels very different. In some ways, it flows like a subdued, mid-eighties Dario Argento flick. The colors are gorgeous, showing Claire’s existence as drowsy and dreamlike, with Townsend pulling off a great job as the lead. A lot of time is spent alone on screen (of course), and there are suitable subtleties to her performance. Claire seems likable in an awkward kind of way, ostensibly harmless. Even when she snaps, she is painfully uncomfortable more than angry or manic. It’s a chilling portrayal.
Brea Grant, who saw her Lucky released two days earlier, equally delivers. She is outgoing and fun, always ready to entertain, yet, like with Claire, something is off. When her guard lets down, she is plainly unhappy, and Claire might be onto something when she suggests that Olivia is making a mistake marrying Charlie (David DeRock). Her way of expressing it just leaves a little to be desired.
Running an hour and forty-five minutes, The Stylist drags at times, and cutting – no pun intended – a good fifteen to twenty minutes could have helped the story progression. It makes sense to show Claire getting angry at her own awkwardness, but it’s a scene that is repeated one too many times. Stay through to the end, though, and you will be rewarded with a conclusion of Tales from the Crypt-like proportions.
It has some bumps, but overall I really did enjoy The Stylist. Setting aside a disjointed opening scene and excessive runtime, it’s a well-made movie with an intriguing plot. The Stylist is currently streaming on Arrow, which is well worth signing up for with its free one-month offer.
Arrow, you say?
I wasn’t particularly familiar with Arrow’s streaming service, but I gotta say… not bad. It has an interesting library of cult movies – including the elusive English/Italian cut of Deep Red – and reminds me of Shudder.
August 7th, 2021 update
I don’t know if my change of heart on The Stylist is based on not having been in the right state of mind during my initial watch or if a second viewing was required to really appreciate the film. The pacing does benefit from the long-is running time and vice versa – Najarra Townsend’s portrayal of Claire makes those awkward scenes well-worth it. The soundtrack, too, fits the tone of the movie better than I first gave it credit for.
So, yes, ultimately The Stylist is a must-watch. Consider our indiscretion a mistake.
Letterboxd summary: Claire is a lonely hairstylist who secretly murders and scalps her clients. When Olivia makes the well-intentioned mistake of asking Claire to style her hair for her wedding, she becomes dangerously obsessed, and her sanity starts to slip away with bloody consequences.
Ratings from around the web
|One Star Classics||5/6|