Medusa Deluxe review: an innovative murder mystery

Anita-Joy Uwajeh as Timba in Medusa Deluxe.
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The first feature from writer/director Thomas Hardiman, Medusa Deluxe is an innovative and smartly written whodunnit.

When you think of a murder mystery, your mind might immediately wander to the classics of Agatha Christie – to Poirot or Miss Marple. Or perhaps to the more recent work of Rian Johnson on the Knives Out films. All of these are bound together by a detective investigating a murder and gradually dragging the truth out of reluctant suspects. You might be lulled into thinking that the murder mystery genre in general is rather generic, and that there are few ways of presenting it in a way that’s new or exciting.

Enter new feature director Thomas Hardiman’s murder-at-a-hairdressing-competition movie Medusa Deluxe.

Throwing us right into the middle of things, we learn in the opening scene from the foul-mouthed, gossip-loving Cleve (EastEnder's Clare Perkins) that fellow hairdresser Mosca has been murdered. Not just murdered – scalped.

Of course, being a group of work-obsessed hairdressers at a regional competition, every competitor is a suspect. Not just Cleve, who attracts early suspicion with her lack of regard for the situation, but also Kendra (Harriet Webb), Divine (Kayla Meikle) and the competition’s host Rene (Darrell D’Silva). Also in the mix is Mosca’s bereaved partner Angel (played with absolute gusto by Luke Pasqualino, who provides some great physical comedy).

What’s so utterly refreshing about Medusa Deluxe is that from this opening scene onward the story is told from the perspective of the suspects, with very little police or detective involvement at all. In fact, there’s never even a police officer on-screen. There’s no mustache-twirling Poirot here, only the gossiping hairdressers and their heavily made-up models with their sky-high tresses. There’s some excellent hair and makeup design here courtesy of Scarlett O’Connell and Eugene Souleiman, who really lean into the absurdity of the situation.

A model modelling an outlandish hairstyle in Medusa Deluxe.

In one take, Hardiman’s camera follows these flamboyant characters through dimly-lit corridors and into different rooms, where we learn a bit more about their complicated relationships each time. It’s like a game of cinematic Cluedo – no telling who it was, but it was in the dressing room with the scissors.

Often one-take movies can seem a little bit gimmicky, but here it feels absolutely essential to what Hardiman’s trying to achieve. Not only does the camera follow the characters, it stays close and limits what we can see to only what he wants us to know. It adds to the mystery of it all, and it creates a sense of claustrophobic unease that reflects what the characters must be feeling. They’re trapped in a building with a killer among them, not allowed to leave until they each speak to the police.

In this sense, not only is Medusa Deluxe innovatively shot, it’s also very tense. But while you’re always waiting for something surprising to happen, it very rarely delivers on this front. In the end, it does feel a bit like it’s let most of the air out. The ending’s quiet, but it does at least provide a bit of an unexpected twist – and a cast dance sequence in the credits.

However, like most murder mysteries, the joy of Medusa Deluxe is really in the search for answers rather than the answers themselves – and that search is driven by the characters. The cast are blessed with sharp and witty dialogue that they can really sink their teeth into, and watching them bicker with each other never gets old. Clare Perkins and Luke Pasqualino are the two who are really making the most of the film’s dry humour – Perkins with her sharp tongue and deadpan deliveries and Pasqualino by completely throwing himself into such a flamboyant role.

It’s impressive work from a first-time feature director and writer, and if you’re a murder mystery fan looking for something a little bit different, Hardiman’s innovative debut is certainly that.

Medusa Deluxe is in cinemas on 9th June and streaming on Mubi from 4th August.

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