I tend to really enjoy watching a first film that really announces a new director. These calling card works are often flawed, but they’re movies that offer up an exciting and potentially distinct voice we haven’t heard before. Flicks that launch careers are just tiny bundles of joy. So, while Medusa Deluxe is slight and doesn’t fully hold the weight of its own premise, the gimmick of a one-take whodunit is just compelling enough to keep you intrigued from start to finish.
Medusa Deluxe is very much a calling card film. It’s all concept, with a focus on appreciating the execution. Story-wise, it’s not too much to write home about, while the performances are just fine. However, watching it all unfold is just fun enough to warrant a recommendation, while fully being aware that this is a debut movie from someone who could, in short order, be a very big deal.
The setting is certainly unique. This is a murder mystery set within the halls of a competitive hairdressing contest. The death of stylist Mosca (John Alan Roberts) has everyone in a tizzy and the competition is on pause. So, there’s not much to do but gossip and speculate. Some, like Cleve (Clare Perkins) continue working and form speculations. All are suspicious of one another. After all, there seems to be a murderer among their ranks. Things are always cutthroat, but someone has taken it to a whole other level.
As they wait around, tensions build. There’s Divine (Kayla Meikle), models like Angie (Lilit Lesser), Timba (Anita-Joy Uwajeh), Inez (Kae Alexander), and Etsy (Debris Stevenson), alongside stylists like Kendra (Harriet Webb), and many other folks on site. As they all expose on what they think is going on, the camera follows them around, helping to fill in gaps in the story. Eventually, you figure out what’s going on, but this, somewhat intentionally, style over substance.
The cast is in service of the premise, though no one is bad. Clare Perkins has the best luck in hooking you in with her character, as there’s a vibrancy to how she delivers her dialogue. It’s not a performance that will knock your socks off, but it’s the most noticeable of the lot, at least for me. Supporting players, beyond the ones mentioned above, also include Heider Ali, Darrell D’Silva, Luke Pasqualino, among others.
Filmmaker Thomas Hardiman does establish himself here with a work that should get him bigger and better jobs. The one-take idea is nothing new these days, but the setting is unique, as is how tight it all holds on the characters. You usually see this premise done with more flash, but Hardiman is content to let the process showcase itself. It does mean that the direction doesn’t pop as much as it otherwise might, but it works. A lot of this is due to cinematographer Robbie Ryan, who is going to town on this assignment. If there’s a best in show, it’s Ryan and his DP work here. Now, the writing is a bit more generic, and I’m not sure he really sticks the landing with Medusa Deluxe, but more works than does not. Above all else, I’m very curious to see what he does next.
Medusa Deluxe is unlikely to blow you away. However, with Rian Johnson reigniting interest in the whodunit with Knives Out and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, something smaller and more esoteric does have its place in the world. A24 is a good home for this one and as long as you keep in mind that it’s a first film, there’s enough here to enjoy.