Film Review: Medusa Deluxe


In the run-up to a regional hairdressing competition, the leading entrant is found mutilated. British director Thomas Hardiman’s debut film is a gripping, dizzyingly stylish thriller. With a tightly-woven plot, dazzling cinematography and a razor-sharp cast of characters, Medusa Deluxe is Brit neo-noir at its knotty best.

The opening scenes of Medusa Deluxe are a hypnotic array of characters and backstories, presenting a borderline impenetrable web of interpersonal relationships, rivalries and resentments. The mood and tone are set as Cleve (Clare Perkins), a hairdresser with a formidable presence and demeanour to match, recounts a recent anecdote of infidelity and recrimination. Her narration, the camera fluidly tracking her as she storms around her model, moves at such a pace that it’s at once difficult to keep up and impossible not to be brought along, before the focus shifts on to another character.

Across the film’s sprightly 101 minutes, cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s camera moves, in an (apparently) single take, from one character to another as they discuss the gruesome death at the heart of the film. Meanwhile, the tension is kept high with a percussive score that emphasises the film’s interminable forward motion. There’s a dreamlike quality to the aesthetics and this thrusting momentum; indeed, it’s not entirely clear when the competition is supposed to be taking place or why it hasn’t been called off given that one of the contestants has been murdered. And yet we continue to roll onwards, trapped in this weird, psychological labyrinth of municipal corridors and lilac-lit rooms.

The mystery gradually unspools as we pick up tidbits of Kendra’s (Harriet Webb) ambition to win the contest, as well as Rene (Darrell D’Silva) and Angel’s (Luke Pasqualino’s) love-rivalry with the deceased Mosca (John Alan Roberts). Admittedly, these relationships are hinted at more than fully explored, but it’s in the performances where the characters are brought to life. Perkins stands out as the terrifying Cleve, whose boasts of past violence meted out to wrong-doers constantly threatens to tip over into the present, while security guard Gac (Heider’s Ali) unsetting quietness is contrasted against D’Silva’s Rene in his duplicitous acts of kindness, or Kae Alexander’s subtle sleuthing as Inez.

In the great tradition of The Big Sleep, the reveal of the killer is far less important – or satisfying – than the mystery and the style with which it is presented. But the manner in which in we get there is undoubtedly gripping, its scenario unique and its characters compelling. Medusa Deluxe’s drama may not be plumbing the depths, but this is bold, thrilling, filmmaking, full of big emotions and high style.

Christopher Machell