Review by Sean Boelman
It isn’t often that a horror film makes its way into the main narrative competition at a non-genre festival, but Jill Gevargizian earned a spot in the central lineup of the 2021 Florida Film Festival for her movie The Stylist. A killer concept and strong performances go a long way, but frustratingly slow pacing keeps it from being the campy cult classic it could be.
The film tells the story of a serial killer hair stylist who becomes obsessed with one of her clients and becomes increasingly entwined in her life. It’s a blend of slasher horror and stalker thriller tropes, and while it makes sense why these things should go together, the exaggerated nature of the former genre does not lend itself to the serious eeriness of the latter.
Gevargizian gets her movie off to a running start with an opening sequence that is genuinely fun and inspired. Unfortunately, the rest of the film fails to live up to this precedent that it sets early. It’s not a particularly gruesome movie, with only a few moments that are especially violent, and the character dynamics don’t instill a sufficient amount of suspense.
One of the issues with the film is that it doesn’t have that much of a message. The ending that this is building to is painfully obvious, and while it still gets a chuckle, it isn’t the payoff that it seems to think it is. There are some themes introduced about trauma and obsession, but Gevargizian rarely goes beyond the surface.
That said, there is some interesting character work done in the movie. The film doesn’t want the audience to entirely sympathize with the killer, but she definitely also isn’t a traditional villain. She exists in this grey area where there is something about her that we sympathize with but we aren’t rooting for her.
Najarra Townsend’s leading performance is excellent, bringing both the charm and the craziness to make the role work. She definitely does a lot of the legwork in carrying the movie. The supporting cast is led by Brea Grant, who is quickly becoming the queen of indie horror, who provides an excellent foil for Townsend.
The other thing that works really well in the film is Gevargizian’s style. Even if the movie can’t really decide on a tone for the script, it is at least very consistent in a visual sense. There is some fantastic imagery sprinkled throughout the film, and while hardcore genre fans will wish that there was more done with it, more causal thrill seekers will be entertained.
The Stylist is yet another horror movie with a great concept but less than stellar execution. Still, it’s interesting enough that it should make viewers excited to see what filmmaker Jill Gevargizian does next.
The Stylist is now streaming online as a part of the 2021 Florida Film Festival, which runs April 8-22 in Orlando, FL.