Lectures For Lifelong Learners!

“Flashback” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The Stylist

Claire (Najarra Townsend) is not right in the head. She drugs women, removes their scalps with whatever sharp tool is available to her (usually a pair of scissors), and wears the scalp in the creepy serial killer lair in the cellar of her house. She’s like Buffalo Bill in “The Silence of the Lambs,” except that in “The Stylist,” all Claire needs is the scalp. It’s a bit fuzzy about what she does with the bodies after she scalps her victims, but the garbage bags she takes out after doing the deed on one victim hints at her means of disposal.

For Claire, the fantasy she fulfills by wearing the scalps is not sexual, though her lesbian tendencies are a strong undercurrent. Rather, she pretends to be these women in order to escape the pain of her own life. Claire’s past isn’t touched on too deeply, so it never entirely comes together as to why she does what she does. The fact, however, does remain that she’s profoundly unhappy in her own life, and wearing other women’s scalps and pretending to live their lives provides her with a release. From a psychological point of view, she’s a fascinating, and dare I say, sympathetic character. This woman is terribly damaged mentally. The question is whether something happened to make her this way, or was she born this way.

From a practical point of view, Claire is horrifying. She gains the trust of women, gets them to relax around her, then springs her trap. We see how she operates when out of town graphic designer Sarah (Jennifer Seward) sees Claire to get her hair done. Claire sits her in the chair, hands her a glass of wine, and chats her up. This is no mere hair salon chit chat, however. Claire is getting information. Once the drug she poured in Sarah’s drink takes effect (whether it outright kills Sarah or knocks her out is unclear, but this fact is moot given the final outcome), Claire takes what she wants and discards the rest. She’s an unflinching sociopath. These women’s lives don’t matter to Sarah except for the details she can get from them for when she literally wears their hair and “becomes” them.

Her sociopathy is even more evident with the barista at a local coffee shop named Dawn (Sarah McGuire). Her death at the hands of Claire is an especially nasty one—and a case in which Claire either didn’t use enough of her drug, or it can serve as proof that her victims are merely knocked out and can wake up while Claire is applying her sadistic trade. Fliers go up around the neighborhood with Dawn’s picture on them. The first time Claire sees one she gives it a brief look, then moves on, betraying no hint of emotion or remorse of any kind. The life she has taken and family she’s destroyed mean nothing to her. She got her scalp so she can indulge in her fantasy. That’s all that matters to her.

The main focus of Claire’s obsession is Olivia (Brea Grant). This is the woman Claire would like to be above all others. Olivia is pretty, smart, successful, exercises regularly, has a close group of friends, and is about to be married. In a brilliant cinematic move, co-writer and director Jill Gevargizian utilizes split screen to juxtapose Claire’s introverted isolation with Olivia’s happy and well-adjusted life. This is no mere gimmick. The contrast is noteworthy and it provides a sense of where Claire is versus where she wants to be.

Most of “The Stylist” centers around Olivia convincing Claire to do her hair for her upcoming wedding and inviting her into her life. But the deeper Claire gets, the more obsessed she becomes. The more obsessed she becomes, the more awkward she gets as she tries to control her murderous impulse.

If I have any complaints about “The Stylist,” it’s that it is a bit of a slow burn in parts, and the finale is contrived. However, it’s captivating nonetheless, and worth sticking with to the end. Rent it.

More New Releases

“Flashback,” in which a man literally and metaphorically journeys into his past after a chance encounter with a man forgotten from his youth, starring Dylan O’Brien, Maika Monroe, and Hannah Gross; “The Lovebirds,” in which a couple gets unintentionally embroiled in a bizarre murder mystery, starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani; and “Assault on VA-33,” in which a VA hospital and everyone in it are taken hostage by heavily armed terrorists, starring Sean Patrick Flannery, Michael Jai White, Gina Holden, Weston Cage Coppola, and Mark Dacascos.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.