For Film’s Sake is an organisation focusing on diversity within the film industry and championing gender equality. As more and more female filmmakers are rising up and making strong independent, artistic, and challenging ciné statements, particularly within the genre of horror, it’s becoming increasingly clear that their voices are proving to be more exciting and interesting than the majority of male filmmakers. I’m generalising, of course, but FFS’s “Fright Night” mini-festival, being staged at a pop-up Sydney venue, “Alaska Projects” (in a darkened carpark!) is all about hearing the female voice in horror roar sharp and loud.
In conjunction with the Los Angeles mini-festival Etheria Film Night, comes a selection of four short films that are accompanying three features, all screening on one night. The Puppet Man (US), Nasty (UK), The Stylist (US), and Black Cat (AUS), all play alongside the new horror anthology XX (which consists of four segments), new twisted, blackly comic drama Bitch, and the fangtastic, late 80s cult classic Near Dark.
Jill Gevargizian’s short The Stylist is an elegant tale of one very troubled woman’s search for perfection. Claire (Najarra Townsend) is a hair stylist working in a small salon. She may appear pretty and composed, but she has a very dark and disturbing nature. It is the end of another working day, and the last client, Mandy (Jennifer Plas) arrives with the simple request of wanting to look perfect for her boss’s 25th anniversary celebrations. Claire offers Mandy a wine, then quietly listens to her rant and gossip, as she shampoos and treats the woman’s blonde locks. Soon enough it is time for Claire to do her other thing. The thing that helps her deal with her own ingrained insecurity, her dark desire for some kind of elusive beauty, of “perfection”.
I saw Jill’s first short, Call Girl, a few years back at Sydney Underground Film Festival, and was very impressed with her style and originality. She continues her collaboration with screenwriter Eric Havens, this time mining her own experiences as a hair stylist, but portrayed as a slice of “Sweeney Todd” meets Maniac nightmarishness. The Stylist works a charm due to Jill’s assured direction, Colleen May’s excellent special effects, Nicholas Elert’s brooding score, but particularly fast rising star Najarra Townsend’s superb performance, who left a memorable impression on me after seeing Contracted a few years back.
The Stylist’s final scene punctuates the film with an emotionally resonant edge, pushing the horror into unusually melancholy territory, and proving that “Jill Sixx” is a director whose debut feature will no doubt be something worth waiting for.