‘Medusa Deluxe’ Review: A Flashy One-Take Hairdresser Murder Mystery

In Medusa Deluxe, the snakes aren’t in your hair, they’re around it: a squirming, hissing collective of human predators slinking through the various salons and stands of a top-flight hairdressing competition. Most are poisonous, and at least one is deadly, or so it seems when a star stylist is found, not just murdered but literally scalped, the night before his widely anticipated victory in the competition. That sets the stage for British writer-director Thomas Hardiman’s sizzling, offbeat debut feature Medusa Deluxe, a dodgy, gossip-laden crime thriller that delights more in rounding up its many unlikely suspects than in any logical, procedural detective work: whodunnit is not a pressing question in a movie where everyone is 100% that bitch.

It sounds good on paper and looks great on screen, thanks in no small part to the genius of DP Robbie Ryan – who can finally add a one-take film to his resume after dizzying collaborations with the likes of Andrea Arnold and Yorgos Lanthimos. That, at least, is how “Medusa Deluxe” is presented, with its various bobbing, weaving steadicam shots cleverly taped together by editor Fouad Gaber to suggest agitated, uninterrupted movement that resembles the showy, resilient artistry of “Birdman” more than it does the dark immersiveness of last year’s Boiling Point. Still, this kinetic, if not entirely novel, presentation doesn’t fully cover the weaknesses of Hardiman’s screenplay, with its exhausting flurry of characters more colorful than they are shaded and a plot eventually drained from compelling distractions from the matter at hand .

That won’t stop this lively, acid-bright confection from delighting more festival-goers after its premiere in Locarno’s public-facing Piazza Grande beach, while it’s easy to see why distributors have already pocketed Hardiman’s calling card, with A24 snagging the North American rights and Mubi occupies an abundance of global territories. You might find this star-driven, vibe-driven affair harder to sell, but it makes sense to jump in with Hardiman on the ground floor, whose penchant for salty dialogue and ostentatious staging sets him apart from many more recent British newcomers, and could potentially be one in future projects be put to more commercial use.

Medusa Deluxe possesses its garish glory from the start, opening with a digitally animated overture that zooms dizzyingly through a surreal wilderness of skyscraper-sized hairdressing products and paraphernalia before Ryan’s roving camera takes the baton and keeps the pace. We’re introduced to rival saloon owners Cleve (Clare Perkins, standout from the Mile-in-Minute cast, former regular on British soap EastEnders) and Divine (Kayla Meikle), whose loveless, explosive back-and-forth is such as They practice their outlandish tonsorial creations and set the tone for the next 90 minutes. Cleve, in particular, spews out an almost unmanageable torrent of community stories involving past friends, foes, and colleagues, with one memorable finding: “Apprentice hairdressers don’t survive exploding cars.”

Any intrigue about this is put aside, however, when news reaches her that competition favorite Mosca has been found dead on the premises, the flesh torn from his once presumably manicured scalp. The messenger is Rene (Darrell D’Silva), the lavishly pompadoured, lace-shirted, perpetual vaporizer organizer of the event, who happens to be a former lover of the deceased. His successor in Mosca’s affections, the overwrought, high-profile Angel (Luke Pasqualino) soon enters the scene, glamorously crying and wailing, with the couple’s tiny baby — by far the least garish presence here — in tow.

Other players in this unruly clue game include brazen blonde Kendra (Harriet Webb), whose stubborn, all-encompassing gaze cuts through the prevailing animosity, a bevy of disgruntled, rumor-mongering models, and sinister security guard Gac (Heider Ali), who may have some unsavory secrets in relation to the dead or not – and whose clean-shaven dome could not mark him more clearly as an unwelcome outsider in this world. Performances within the ensemble range from entertaining barnstorming to over-the-top hysteria, without anyone being very motivated to find genuine, raw character beneath a barrage of poses and attitudes.

“Medusa Deluxe” makes no apologies for its addiction to stereotypes as big, wide, and expansive as many of the elaborate hairstyles it so lovingly flaunts – one particularly lavish bouquet is Wella’s Head Hairstylist and Creative Director, Eugene Souleiman , whose compelling editorial creations lend this low-budget venture a needed dash of high-fashion credibility. But after a while, the combination of aggressive, impenetrable shellac characters and intentionally, hopelessly convoluted, shaggy storytelling begins to fade, and viewers might wish for an easier entry.

All compensations come via the film’s formal brio, while Ryan’s camera darts undaunted through the chaos, adopting hot, fluorescent color schemes and changing like so many discarded outfits, all in time to a sparse, throbbing score by British electronic artist Koreless. Just when you’re expecting the filmmaking to go completely off the rails, Hardiman unexpectedly cuts and opts for a feel-good curtain with a disco soundtrack that owes more to Mamma Mia! as the film’s previous bird’s nest of influences, covering early Almodóvar, Altman, Sally Potter and a sprinkling of British teatime television. Whether these characters deserve such indulgence is debatable: in the mirror-strewn world of Medusa Deluxe, almost everyone is the star of their own melodrama and styled accordingly.

https://variety.com/2022/film/reviews/medusa-deluxe-review-1235335450/ ‘Medusa Deluxe’ Review: A Flashy One-Take Hairdresser Murder Mystery

Charles Jones

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