Vague Visages’ Medusa Deluxe review contains minor spoilers. Thomas Hardiman’s 2022 movie features Luke Pasqualino, Lilit Lesser and Clare Perkins. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Medusa Deluxe, the riotously funny, pitch-black feature debut from Thomas Hardiman, has a fair amount in common with the similarly brash Irish horror-comedy Deadly Cuts (2021). Both movies are set in and around hairdressing competitions, feature murders prominently and focus more on laughs than scares. Where Medusa Deluxe differs most obviously is in the execution. Hardiman relegates the action to a single location — a labyrinthine building with a confusing layout that’s emphasized by the handheld camerawork as it snakes around the corridors. The effect is that it always feels like someone is watching the characters, even when nobody else appears to be around.
Medusa Deluxe is a bit stagey at first, with oppressively tight angles and lots of dialogue. The opening act sees Cleve (Eastenders alum Clare Perkins) setting the scene while also mouthing off, leaving the model she’s working on looking understandably terrified. Word on the street is that one of the other contestants has been scalped — a horrifying fate that nonetheless makes a sick amount of sense for hairdressers — and the place has been locked down while the police interview everybody present. It’s clear there’s plenty of drama behind the scenes even without the murder; the (mostly female) participants are all kind of combative and on edge, as well as suspicious of each other.
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Hardiman creates a real powder keg situation, since it’s unclear who’s trustworthy, who’s telling the truth and who may have ulterior motives. The deceased was seemingly the only male contestant in the show, which adds a whole other level of intrigue to his already suspicious death since anybody might want to get rid of him. The dynamics of each interpersonal relationship are immediately clear, but Hardiman, who also penned the razor-sharp screenplay, doesn’t get bogged down with exposition. His talented cast of predominantly TV actors, including Skins’ Luke Pasqualino, make their characters feel incredibly lived-in and real, even when they’re brawling or using hairspray as a weapon.
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Medusa Deluxe’s score is comprised almost entirely of minimalistic beats, which creates a real sense of urgency. Likewise, the sleek cinematography, by the prolific Robbie Ryan (Slow West, American Honey), brings the colorful, gravity-defying hairstyles to life while also playing with the shadows in the movie’s darker moments. At one point, a glow-in-the-dark ship sitting on top of a complicated hairdo lights the way as its model wanders in near pitch-darkness. The central mystery unravels gradually, and although the conclusion is somewhat obvious, it’s immensely satisfying just spending some time in the company of these characters as they sling insults and freak out about who may be next.
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Solidifying the offbeat tone, “Rock the Boat” — a fixture at Irish weddings that was recently featured in Derry Girls — plays briefly during Medusa Deluxe. It seems like a tongue-in-cheek nod to how easy it is for everything to go to hell when one member of a group starts falling apart at the seams. The fun of Medusa Deluxe is less about figuring out who the murderer is and more to do with watching everybody lose their minds over their little bubble being penetrated by an outside influence they can’t control. It also makes for some all-timer insults, the best of which is arguably “Pantene Pro-V cunt.” They’re levelled with such venom that one might begin to question whether these people were ever friends.
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There is a softness to Medusa Deluxe, though, particularly when an adorable baby is introduced in the final act and has to be passed around from person to person as the situation escalates. Likewise, there’s a sense of solitude in the eerie halls that’s punctuated by a lively sequence — either flashback or fantasy, perhaps a mixture of both — during the show that finds everybody doing well and having a great time. The fact that Medusa Deluxe is staged as a one-take shot might irk certain viewers, but it’s far too stylish and intriguing to bother trying to spot the joins. Hardiman almost dares the audience to look away. And yet for all its bombast and purposeful staginess, Medusa Deluxe is recognizably British and even somewhat low stakes, albeit always entertainingly so. The murder itself is never shown, with the story kicking off after the body has already been discovered. Likewise, Hardiman constantly reminds the audience that this is solely “a regional hairdressing competition,” as though the filmmaker is poking fun at his own characters for caring way too much about it.
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The plethora of different working-class accents on display — from a group comprised predominantly of women of color, no less — ensures there’s no doubt about whose side the writer-director is on, though. Medusa Deluxe, then, is less a whodunnit than a who’s-gonna-do-it once the cracks in the exquisitely delicate façade finally bust wide open.
Medusa Deluxe released theatrically and digitally on August 11, 2023.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.
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