The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - MEDUSA DELUXE | The Movie Waffler


The contestants of a hairdressing contest attempt to identify the killer of a fellow competitor.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Thomas Hardiman

Starring: Clare Perkins, Kae Alexander, Harriet Webb, Darrell D'Silva, Luke Pasqualino

Medusa Deluxe poster

A film set in the context of a hairdressing competition, an event with imperial emphasis on artisanal display and glorious ostentation, Thomas Hardiman's Medusa Deluxe narrates and imparts information with a conversely furtive manner. We open in a grubby backstage, where Eastenders stalwart Clare Perkins' Cleve is attempting to finesse a fontange while recounting a ribald anecdote AND figure out what's happening with a bad murder apparently just committed down the corridor. Robbie Ryan's camera pushes in towards boorish close ups, before swinging back to take in Cleve's colleague Divine (Kayla Meikle) and a hushed hair-model in rolling medium frames. The film is shot all in one take, you realise with trepidation. Cleve continues to go off on one: Mosca, the one to beat in the competition, has been killed to death and scalped (well, it is a film hinging on the importance of hair), leaving his rivals to fret over how this will affect the feasibility of the competition and who is responsible. The salon is set for taut contention, tense interactions and caustic revelations.

Medusa Deluxe review

Technically, it is impressive how Perkins rants, gossips and manipulates a lightweight model of sailboat on the top of a barnet all the while under the unblinking pressure of a tracking camera. Pending investigation in backstage lockdown we glide, in very well-performed vignettes, from one character to the next. The approach, however, is perhaps a little too alienating for what is to all extents and purposes a whodunnit. A one take which "keeps up" with players, which follows characters into different scenes one at a time and attempts to eavesdrop on conversations, is immersive and fast moving, yet has reduced capacity to contextualise these characters and their situation. Told to us second-hand, the reality of the murder itself has as much weight as Cleve's ridiculous anecdote of a closeted gay whose wife smells semen on his breath (oh how brash and vulgar, yeah?). Such narrative choices make it hard to hold on to Medusa Deluxe's ensuing plot.

Medusa Deluxe review

It doesn't help that Cleve is immensely annoying: you know loud drunk people on the last train, the braying ones who assume everyone wants to listen to their drivel? That. Themes of frustration and desperate competition are thoroughly scrunched in, however, and the febrile atmosphere - money, beefs - suggests that anyone could be the killer. I've written before about the sanctity of hairdressers, in another film about murder and hair mousse, and throughout this darker movie there is the optimism that class issues, the divide between how much is paid for skilfully executed hair and how much those who skilfully execute the cut are paid, will be explored but the film doesn't have space to honour this hope, or successfully probe the catty desperation of its characters.

Medusa Deluxe review

In a film built around the novelty of the singular take, flitting across the cast ultimately reduces engagement with the genre premise (as does the lack of visible police, surely an injurious budgetary consequence), as the episodic time spent with each potential suspect is rendered superficial (could, however, the perpetrator be the beleaguered security guard who wanders in and out of sequences like a shellshocked murderer? If not then the film drops some massive hints). Pathos, comedy and the vivid details of the murder never grip, and, in the film's impressively camp ending even any lingering impact of thematic toxic gay shame is cancelled out. The uninterrupted filming does engender a sense of urgency and is certainly claustrophobic, but, in stark contrast to the mien of hairdressing wherein such a dynamic makes for an essential aesthetic, Medusa Deluxe is ultimately style over substance.

Medusa Deluxe is on MUBI UK now.

2023 film reviews