Aspiring filmmakers take note: this is how you turn your short film into a full-length feature.
We’ve been following Jill Gevargizian’s career since we covered the 2013 release of the teaser for her first short film Call Girl, and then our 2014 review of the short after its release. In the review of Call Girl, I ended by saying, “my only complaint is that I want more; but I’m sure that Jill will deliver it in the future…and you can guarantee that I’ll be watching.”
Well, here we are; my wish has come true…and I was watching.
The Stylist opens with a pre-credit scene as Claire (Najarra Townsend – Contracted) takes a late-night appointment with an out-of-town professional who’s looking for a bit of a trim and a color re-freshen. Since I haven’t been in the chair of a hair salon in about thirty years, I’m going to assume that the semi-personal discussions in the chair are normal – sort of like spilling your guts to a strange bartender over a glass of harsh spirits – only this salon doesn’t offer harsh spirits, just some wine…and a bit more.
During this cut-n-color there are things said that help us to understand a bit about Claire: her client mentions that she likes to get in front of customers as she feels you can make a better connection when you look them in the eye, something that an insecure Claire is unable to do most times. Claire painfully mentions how, as a stylist, she’s able to slide in and out of people’s lives, that “it’s almost like having a family”. However, the heavy-hitter here is when the client says, “we all want what we can’t have” – Claire understands that all too much.
The set-up is all there, it’s now up to Jill and her writing team of Eric Havens and Eric Stolze to knock it down – and they do.
As the wine glass slips to the floor and the client slides into unconsciousness, those who have seen the short film know what’s coming next but that still doesn’t prepare you for the great scalp effect that is pulled off here – a scalping so well done that even Frank Zito himself would be chartreuse with envy.
Later at home, Claire lovingly wears her new treasure and gets to pretend to be someone else for a little while; she can play at living a life that she covets…because much like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, that’s what Claire does…she covets; albeit for a different reason. Claire is so unsatisfied with her own life, from top to bottom, that she must live vicariously through others in order to hold on to what little shard of sanity she has left. Abandoned by her parents, no family to speak of, no friends in her life…so when she finds a woman with a life that seems “perfect” to her, she has to try and live it; she doesn’t really want to be friends with that woman, she wants to be that woman.
Unfortunately for a soon-to-be-married woman named Olivia (Brea Grant – RZ’s Halloween II), the hairstylist she has locked in to be there on her wedding day has bailed on her, so she reaches out to Claire to see if she’ll fill in. Claire doesn’t really want the job as she doesn’t handle pressure situations well, but she decides to do it. The couple meet up at the salon for a trial and Olivia loves the look that Claire creates. The two then plan for dinner at Olivia’s house to chat and see what the new hair looks like with the wedding gown. Olivia also invites Claire to her bachelorette party, and we get the sense that Claire doesn’t hang out much.
All of this proves to be too much for Claire’s sensibilities as she begins to become ultra-obsessed with Olivia…constant text messages offering unsolicited help, showing up at her job…she’s mere doppelganger boyfriend-sex away from being Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female.
Olivia and her fiancée both try to chill Claire out at separate times but, not knowing the extent of Claire’s fragile mental state, they keep her on the hook as they need her services for the wedding day which is fast-approaching.
The performances in The Stylist are nothing short of incredible. Najarra Townsend, whose work is always spectacular, manages to make the viewer sympathize with a character who, at the end of the day, is really a cold-blooded murderer – no easy feat. And Brea Grant does a fantastic job portraying a strong and confident professional woman who lets her guard down just enough to let us see that she is not without her own problems – she just deals with them in a much healthier manner than Claire.
The success of The Stylist is not only in the performances, but also from behind the camera. First, much like the short, the full film is shot well and looks gorgeous, the accompanying music is absolutely perfect, and the direction is inspiring. The level of tension that the team manages to build as Claire progresses toward her characters climax is amazing; as she became more and more obsessed with “being” Olivia and began making more and more awful decisions, I found myself actually yelling “stop!” at her through my television.
The Stylist is a truly gut-wrenching and inspired piece of indie filmmaking – bravo!
The Stylist made it’s first appearance at Fantastic Fest in Texas this past weekend and will soon be at the Knoxville Horror Fest in Tennessee, Sitges Film Festival in Spain and FrightFest in London – do yourself a favor and don’t miss out.