“Nothing is quite what it seems throughout Medusa Deluxe, but in its forthright dedication to being radical without going too far, and offering something of value in instances where a lesser film may have shown restraint, the film is a masterwork of carefully controlled chaos, and one of the more impressive directorial debuts of recent years.”
Few films have quite literally embodied the phrase “drop dead gorgeous” more than Medusa Deluxe, the ambitious feature-length directorial debut of Thomas Hardiman, who constructs an exquisite dark comedy set in the world of competitive hairdressing that often plays as a pastiche to the likes of Peter Strickland and Peter Greenaway, blending socially conscious humour with a sense of psychological unease. A fascinating film that occurs at the intersection between unsettling murder mystery and absurdist satire, Medusa Deluxe is willing to take many risks in order to convey some deeply disconcerting material, all of which is delivered through a haunting but hilariously bleak story of a world-renowned hairdresser being killed just hours before a competition for which he was seen as the frontrunner. The film is formed with a darkly brooding tone that is undercut with a deranged sense of humour, and defined by a kind of glorious perversity in which decorum and decency are replaced with off-kilter wit that pushes boundaries that would be actively avoided by the vast majority of filmmakers. It is a creative experiment that somehow manages to transcend a few slight limitations, flourishing into a captivating work that keeps us on the edge, and relishes in heightening the tension with every new idea.
The best way to describe Medusa Deluxe would likely be as Agatha Christie meets Rossano Ferretti, being as deceptively luxurious as the title suggests. The structure is extremely simple – it starts with a murder, and the viewer plays the role of detective, quietly investigating the scene of the crime through silently observing the conversations between the characters. In such a narrative, absolutely everyone is a subject, and we voyeuristically peer into this world to find clues that help resolve the mystery. Naturally, this is only at the conceptual level, since Hardiman has a lot more to say than just constructing a run-of-the-mill murder mystery. Medusa Deluxe is a horror-tinged backstage drama, looking at the trials and tribulations of a group of hairstylists preparing for a competition, which is slightly derailed by the murder of a colleague – and we are constantly invited to laugh at the sheer absurdity of the situation, since there is a level of off-the-wall madness that fuels the film. It never feels as if the director is mocking these people (or rather those that they represent), but instead using them as pawns in a much grander game of cat-and-mouse, utilizing well-known horror conventions in conjunction with a few creative flourishes, which allows Medusa Deluxe to be filled to the brim with countless twists and turns, most of which the viewer is not likely to see coming.
Medusa Deluxe is a stylish thriller in more ways than one. Hardiman’s direction is certainly strong enough to reflect the extravagant tone of the film, which is focused on skirting the boundaries of luxury in a way that is compelling but not excessive. On a purely technical level, the film is an absolute marvel. It is filmed to appear like it is taking place in one continuous fluid take, and while this is not the first instance of such a technique, the director avoids leaning into it as a gimmick, always making it clear that there was a reason for this approach, filling every frame with unforgettable imagery that both piques our curiosity and propels the story forward. The dialogue is kept simple and straightforward (rather than veering off into the realm of the ethereal, which often happens with such abstract premises), allowing Hardiman the space to explore the story through more unconventional methods. The unique cinematography, coupled with the music and vivid colours, incites something of a sensory overload in viewers, who will probably find themselves utterly transfixed by the world the director and his cohorts are constructing for them.
It may take some time for Medusa Deluxe to make its intentions clear, and it certainly does not rush to get to the heart of the story – the plot itself is unveiled relatively early on, but the deeper meaning only manifests towards the end. However, this is an instance where the biggest impact is not made by the catalyst or the eventual destination but rather the events that occur in between, with the motives of these characters and their individual contributions being the most captivating elements. It certainly is a film with many peculiarities, but there are an equal number of striking moments (the sequence set to The Joubert Singers’ “Stand on the Word” is particularly notable, acting as the bridge between narrative threads late in the film), and the more we venture into this story, the further we are immersed in the nightmarish but intriguing setting that Hardiman works laboriously to construct for us. Nothing is quite what it seems throughout Medusa Deluxe, but in its forthright dedication to being radical without going too far and offering something of value in instances where a lesser film may have shown restraint, the film is a masterpiece of carefully controlled chaos, and one of the more impressive directorial debuts of recent years.