Obsession gets a makeover in The Stylist, a deliciously twisted slice of female-led psychological horror, nominated for the New Visions Award for Best Motion Picture at the 2020 Sitges International Film Festival and based on co-writer/director Jill Gevargizian's award-winning short film of the same name. We all dream of being someone else... but for Claire (Najarra Townsend, Contracted), that dream goes from an obsession to a living nightmare. Hairstylist by day, serial killer and collector of scalps by night, Claire's lonely existence is thrown into turmoil when her regular client, Olivia (Brea Grant, After Midnight, Lucky), asks her to style her hair for her wedding day. Increasingly fixated on Olivia's seemingly flawless life, Claire vows to lock up her scalp collection and change her ways for good - only to discover that repressing your deadly desires is easier said than done... Featuring striking visuals and pitch-perfect performances from its talented cast, The Stylist offers viewers "a delicately deranged glimpse into social anxiety and loneliness" (Slashfilm) - a bold and mesmerizing debut feature from a filmmaker to watch.
Arrow Video presents Jill Gevargizian’s The Stylist on Blu-ray on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The presentation has been encoded at 1080p/24hz.
The film appears to have been shot digitally (I can’t say what resolution though I am going to guess high-definition) and Arrow is simply using the master that has been provided to them. In all it looks good, the picture delivering sharp details and colours. The film likes its reds, sepias and yellows, and they’re all rendered stunningly here, vividly popping off of the screen. Black levels are also very good, keeping a deep, rich look, rarely looking crushed or milky, which ends up aiding the shadows, a real boon since a good chunk of the film takes place in darker settings.
Artifacts are minimal, though they pop in here and there, and I’m going to put that down more to the original digital photography. At the very least the image rarely comes off all that noisy, even in darker shots or where the more vibrant reds and blues pop up, but banding is noticeable during those same moments. There is also a slight jutter effect during the opening sequence as the camera pans down, but I suspect its inherent to the original photography.
Outside of those minor issues the high-def image is mostly strong.
The film comes with a 5.1 surround soundtrack, delivered in DTS-HD MA. It’s an engaging enough track with some creative moments in its mix, but outside of the score and a few related effects spreading themselves out to the other channels, the track is front heavy. Still, movement between speakers is clean and natural, bass is effectively used (a club sequence being the stand-out), and range is great. Dialogue is also clear and easy to hear.
The film is newer (released in 2020 in a limited manner due to COVID) so it’s fair not to expect a terribly stacked edition, but Arrow has thrown together some decent material for this release. The big addition is an audio commentary featuring director Jill Gevargizian and actor Najarra Townsend. The track starts off a bit awkward with some silence, maybe the two finding their footing (it’s apparently the first time the two have seen the film together as well), but once the conversation gets going the track picks up. The focus is, of course, on the film’s production, the two offering backstory on how they met, how they came to make the original short film of The Stylist, and how they were able to get the feature film version off of the ground. Townsend also worked as producer for the film, so she has some material to share from a producer’s perspective, but her focus ends up being more on her performance and developing her character. Gevargizian of course talks about getting the look of the film right, which includes finding the right locations, and also explaining how she wanted the film to feel to be coming from the main character’s perspective, meaning it always had to feel a bit off. It provides about what one would probably expect from a track of this type, but I found it entertaining, and I do enjoy listening to the stories around independent productions like this one.
Arrow also includes a collection of behind-the-scenes featurettes, eight of them all covering various aspects of the production and running about 66-minutes total. The longest, running about 21-minutes or so, focuses on the original short and the evolution of the film after it received very positive notices. Featuring interviews with members of the cast and crew, the other featurettes cover the other areas of the production, from casting to design and location scouting. There is a even a small bit about cheering on the Kansas City Chiefs, which I guess was required since they were shooting in Kansas City. The featurettes were created for the production (I assume for promotional purposes and/or the eventual DVD/Blu-ray release) and not something created by Arrow, but taken all together they still provide a good level of detail around the making of the film if one’s so interested.
Arrow does include their own an exclusive feature for this release, an academic one to boot, with Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ The Invisible Woman, a 20-minute video essay that focuses on a specific subset of horror films that focus around women and their work. The subset (which I admittedly never considered) includes this film, Satanic Panic, 12 Hour Shift (directed by Brea Grant, who appears in The Stylist), and others, and the segment examines how they address inequality and how it's explored within the horror genre. The essay also does veer off to look at women centered horror films in general (with mention of films like High Tension and Carrie, just to name a couple) but then she takes everything she has covered and applies it to The Stylist, offering a lengthy breakdown of the film. It’s nicely put together and edited, a great little surprise addition.
The disc then includes about 6-minutes’ worth of outtakes, all of which showcase flubs, misunderstandings, dogs that won’t cooperate, and a ceiling falling, because why wouldn’t it? There is then 4-minutes’ worth of material around location scouting, which shows photos of locations compared to how they were used in the film, along with the original two-and-a-half-minute Kickstarter video featuring Gevargizian talking about the project. The main feature also has the option to be played with a short introduction by the director.
Arrow also includes two short films. The first is Pity, a 7-minute film by The Stylist’s editor, John Pata, included because (as Pata explains in a short intro) it ended up leading to getting things started with the short film version of The Stylist. The film itself (based on a short story by J. R. Hayes) focuses on the inner monologue of a “broken man” sitting in his car outside the house of an ex that one can safely assume, based on the unstable nature of that inner monologue, dumped him with good reason. It has the feel of someone just experimenting with the camera, editing, lighting, and mood, and in that regard, it works, but taken at face value you’re pretty much watching some guy lose his shit.
The other short is, of course, the original 15-minute The Stylist. Featuring Townsend in the same role, the short is, more-or-less, the opening of the feature film with one significant difference I won’t spoil (and I’ll say it was probably a wise decision on Gevargizian’s part to excise the moment). Stylistically it’s similar but a bit rougher around the edges. It’s interesting to compare to the longer version because doing so shows a significant amount of growth of Gevargizian’s part as a filmmaker, the feature having a slicker, more polished look, with a tighter edit and sense of pacing. That’s not to talk down on the short, though, as it still looks good, and the sequence in the protagonist’s “lair” is effective.
The disc then closes with the film’s trailers (teaser and theatrical) and an image gallery. This limited edition, which features an O-card slip, then includes a fold-out poster featuring art on either side, along with a booklet featuring an essay by Emma Watson exploring the film’s central character and the film’s various themes, including identity. The limited edition also comes with a CD for the film’s soundtrack.
Overall, the supplements are about what I would have expected for a newer film, but Arrow has lifted things a notch with a couple of their own unique additions, such as the video essay, booklet, and CD.
Not all that different from what a standard studio might put out for a new title, yet Arrow lifts things a notch with a couple of their unique supplements and an excellent audio/video presentation.