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Celebration of Fantastic Fest 2020: The Stylist

The feature length film of the short of the same name, The Stylist follows stylist who murders women she envies and/or covets, removes their scalps, and wears them in secret as she attempts to take on the persona of the deceased. When a client she loves contacts her to do her hair for her wedding, her socially-stunted behavior is brought further into the light and she begins to unravel.

The Stylist Review

The eternal struggle of the "short film to feature film" challenge is something that spans all genres of film. Usually, the three biggest challenges that present themselves with the increased runtime are:

  1. Trying to fill the runtime with legitimate and relevant content.

  2. Properly flesh out the characters and/or plot beyond the nuance of the short.

  3. Somehow retain the power of the short and not dilute its impact.

Some short-to-film adaptations have been wildly successful. Whiplash, District 9 and Saw come to mind as films that took the effective source material and expanded upon it, seemingly unaffected by the increased runtime to drive the characters and plot forward without dragging the pacing. Lights Out is an example of a film that struggled in some areas while succeeding in others. It manages to retain a lot of the dread and intensity of the short throughout its runtime, but it struggled (at least for some) to sensibly give backstory to its characters and plot as it felt at times like The Ring meets an episode of The X-Files.

So where does The Stylist land on this spectrum of success against the challenges before it? I would say somewhere in between the Saw's and the Lights Out's. It succeeds in many areas and is technically sound throughout, but struggles to find its footing along the pacing of the runtime.

There is plenty to appreciate in this film. The performances are fantastic, led by Najarra Townsend (Contracted) as the titular stylist and Brea Grant (After Midnight) as the bride-to-be. The directing by Jill Gevargizian also feels balanced and purposeful throughout, with nods to the use of angles to give tension to the stylist's constant professional need to be positioned behind a client, while also knowing that she is a killer. Intentional usage of the foreground and background are also regularly exercised for the attentive viewer looking for minor plot easter eggs. The striking colors and hues from scene to scene help establish moods and tension depending on the moment, giving attention to detail for the viewer to absorb. There is a great deal of emotion pressed into nearly every scene, and this helps to validate the plot's progression...but perhaps not quite enough to justify the runtime.

At an hour and 45 minutes, you really feel the extra 15 of what could have been a tighter 90-minute runtime. I am an advocate for longer films when you can properly fill the space and keep the pacing up, but that felt like a struggle at times here. I would say that short-to-film adaptation challenge #1 ultimately bested Gevargizian, as some scenes felt stretched thin, while others felt unnecessary or repetitive. This sense of repetition that permeates some scenes causes a lull in the pacing that is difficult to shake at times. While The Stylist isn't necessarily light on the violence and kills, there are times that even these scenes feel like a means to an end, and that end trudges a bit too slow.

In some ways the plot feels like a mutant of Silence of the Lambs and Sweeney Todd. Her sociopathic tendencies lead the stylist to compulsive behaviors and a drive to be someone else, while using her profession as the vehicle for her need to get bloody results. Some of her behaviors feel derivative of fictional serial killers we've seen witnessed on screen before, but at the same time that feels like a harsh assessment considering that the behaviors she exhibits are familiar because they are pulled from the semi-realistic and most memorable portrayals we have seen over the years. Yet, you see far more of her humanity throughout the story than most others of a similar ilk, with some level of morbid sympathy seeping in during her most vulnerable moments.

The Stylist struggles to hit the mark on every challenge faced by a "short-to-feature length film" production, but it is also emotionally driven and impactful right up to its powerful final act. The stylist's subtle movements juxtaposed with brutal violence leaves many scenes open-ended as to their conclusion. Her gradual decline of sanity leaves you waiting for the sheer drop, yet you're not sure if it will ever come with her constant battle with conscience. It's an effective film, and one worth watching, but perhaps it does not justify every minute of its runtime along the way.

Horror Rating System

Horror Qualifier: 8/10

Horror Quality: 5/10

Film Quality: 7/10

#fantasticfest #thestylist #saw #district9 #silenceofthelambs #sweeneytodd #najarratownsend #breagrant #aftermidnight #contracted #jillgevargizian

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