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Medusa Deluxe

Blackly comic thriller about a high-level hairdressing competition is a cut above the rest - British debut of rare promise is in cinemas on Friday, June 9th

When a leading competitor in a regional hairdressing competition is found scalped, the evening is thrown into chaos, and paranoia and rivalries come to the fore in Thomas Hardiman’s stunning debut feature: Medusa Deluxe.

If you thought the hairdresser’s was just a place you went to get a haircut, enjoy elaborate puns and read month old magazines, you are sadly mistaken. It is a world of Hair Today Dye Tomorrow – murder and intrigue, as well as hairspray and scissors. One thing’s for certain: no one is going to ask you where you’re going for your holidays this year.

Told in one (seemingly) continuous shot, we’re backstage in the immediate aftermath of what appears to be a murder. Mosca has been found dead and the suspects are many. The hairdressers and rival competitors have a furious passion for what they do. Cleve (Clare Perkins) sums this up in a beautifully played scene as she vociferously defends her own work and tells a story of how Mosca got in trouble with his wife. Her stories of hairdressing reveal a Tarantinoesque level of violent danger. Then there’s Divine (Kayla Meikle) who has found Jesus and believes in the holiness of the hair. Kendra (Harriet Webb), another rival, is perhaps getting fringe benefits from Rene (Darrell DeSilva), the organizer of the competition. Add to that a bald security guard called Gak (Heider Ali) with creepy eyes and the hair models who sport the elaborate coiffures, one of whom Timba (Anita-Joy Uwajeh) found the body.

The corridors and dressing rooms of the exhibition centre are the setting as Robbie Ryan’s camera swoops and glides, following the characters who themselves are trying to find out what is going on. The police are upstairs asking question, but we never get a scene with them as you would in a traditional whodunnit. In fact, everyone is more in danger from each other and themselves rather than the off stage authorities. The tension has something of Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964), but there is restraint here and the Grand Guignol is located more in the bitchy dialogue rather than blood spilled. The appearance of one of the cutest toddlers on film only locks in the feeling of dread.

Technically, the film is a cut above the rest. The one-shot pony is a bit overladen following so close on the heels of last year’s Boiling Point. We’ve had a one shot realtime version of a chef and a hairdresser. What next? Baker? Candlestick maker? But here the technique is relatively unobtrusive and works. It is actually the performances of the cast which makes the film thrum with its own rhythm.

There’s also the suspicion that this is a shaggy dog story. There are mysteries and questions which are resolved in an unexpected but also bathetic denouement. The musical title sequence feels like an admission on a part of the filmmakers to go out with a bang rather than a pop.

That said the film is so well styled and fun that its churlish to nitpick. Medusa Deluxe marks the arrival of a new British writer-director who looks likely to be way more than just something for the weekend.

(Please note: any hair puns contained in this review were entirely unintentional).

Medusa Deluxe premiered at the 75th Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, when this piece was originally written. In cinemas across the UK on Friday, June 9th.

By John Bleasdale - 08-08-2022

John Bleasdale is a film critic and writer based in Italy. He has published a novel entitled Blood is on the Grass and a book of short stories as well as a number of articles and features. His work ha...

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