This review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the film being covered here wouldn’t exist.In the opening minutes of Thomas Hardiman’s debut feature, Medusa Deluxe, we are thrown right into the lion’s den of a regional hairdressing competition. While that might not sound intense on the surface, the favorite to win Mosca has been found scalped, and Hardiman wastes no time throwing us into the gossip of who could’ve done it. Hardiman introduces us to this world through a heated argument between Cleve (Clare Perkins), a hairstylist with clear anger issues who thought this would finally be her year, and Divine (Kayla Meikle), a quiet, God-loving competitor. If being at a British regional hairstyling competition didn’t sound interesting on paper, Hardiman shakes his audience of that notion right from the get-go.

But to be fair, the mystery at the center of Medusa Deluxe isn’t the most exciting part of Hardiman’s debut, it’s the way this story is told. As we meet characters, like the event’s organizer Rene (Darrell D’Silva), who used to be the lover of Mosca, the mysterious security guard Gac (Heider Ali), and Timba (Anita-Joy Uwajeb), the model Mosca was working on right before he died, we realize that any of these people could be capable of such things. Yet what makes Medusa Deluxe compelling is its structure, as Hardiman and cinematographer Robbie Ryan (The Favourite, Marriage Story) tell this mystery through a single take, or at least, the appearance of one.

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‘Medusa Deluxe’s One-Shot Approach Works…Mostly

Image via A24

As Hardiman explores this mystery, he passes us off from one major player to the next, as they each go on their own journeys backstage at the competition that has understandably been delayed this year. It’s almost like Slacker, but, you know, with a scalping, and more interesting hair. While it’s clear where the cuts are, as there are plenty of opportunities for sly ones within the dark hallways and closed doors, it’s one of the more effective attempts to make a film that looks as if it’s one-take. Once the characters have all been introduced and we start to learn about the betrayals, the long-held grudges, and the secrets of these characters, this tool works to great effect. Especially since, once all this business is done, the directing gets more inventive and daring, and the gimmick of one-shot becomes more and more impressive.

Yet while Hardiman’s approach to the murder mystery is an intriguing one—especially for his debut feature—it still comes with its limitations. While throwing us into the dynamics of this group is a great way to jolt us into this universe, it also takes a while for us to get our bearings into what is actually happening. This choice is jarring right at the top in an effective way, but once the initial shock wears off, the audience is left to put the pieces together. Medusa Deluxe also will occasionally give us scenes in the past and future, and while this would make sense in a more conventionally told story, again, in this fashion, it can be a bit confusing at first. For the majority of Medusa Deluxe, the form fits the narrative at hand, and while these moments are some of the film’s most interesting ones, they don’t quite fit into the structure this film is setting up.

‘Medusa Deluxe’ Lets Its Cast Strut Their Stuff

Medusa Deluxe Clare Perkins
Image via A24

Medusa Deluxe’s cast of over-the-top characters also makes this story worthwhile. Clare Perkins as the abrasive yet incredibly talented Cleve is certainly the standout here. Throughout Medusa Deluxe, Perkins makes us believe that Cleve is the main culprit right out the gate, then slowly reveals that she maybe has a very real reason for her anger. Cleve begins the film at an 11, and even though the performance like most of the film is exaggerated, we begin to feel sympathy and understanding for the most questionable character in the bunch.

While Hardiman’s script and direction might not build the tension of the central mystery, it does do a fine job of building the relationships and bonds that have formed within this group over the years of such competitions. As we learn the twists and turns of this hairdressing world, these characters become far more interesting than Mosca’s murder. This is especially true in the third act when we see that, no matter what this group goes through, this is still a surprisingly supportive community, despite what they all say in the heat of the moment and the wake of the death of one of their own. By the time Medusa Deluxe gets to its extremely charming end credits, which almost have a Beau Travail-esque catharsis to them, it’s hard to not get wrapped up in these characters and almost makes you want to start a rewatch right then and there.

Hardiman’s feature debut is ambitious, even if the overall structure doesn’t always work, and the mystery isn’t as engrossing as it maybe should be. Yet, for all its flaws, it makes up for it in style and its wild cast of characters. Hardiman proves himself to be a fascinating filmmaker with Medusa Deluxe, and while not everything about his debut feature is perfectly coiffed, there’s plenty to admire in this murder mystery.

Rating: B

The Big Picture

  • Medusa Deluxe, the debut feature by Thomas Hardiman, throws us into the intense world of a regional hairdressing competition, with a murder mystery at its center.
  • The film’s structure, told through a single take, or at least the appearance of one, is compelling and effectively draws viewers into the story.
  • While the film’s approach is intriguing, it can be a bit confusing at times, and the tension of the central mystery doesn’t always build. However, the over-the-top characters and their relationships make the story worthwhile.

Medusa Deluxe comes to select theaters and VOD on August 11.

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