The Plot: A team of earthy hairdressers, poised models and harried management are preparing for a regional hairdressing competition. There’s more drama in the unwelcome presence of a corpse. Rene (Darrell D’Silva) finds out that his business partner has been scalped at the most awkward of times. Suspicion is cast among the hairdressers including the mouthy Cleve (Clare Perkins), model Angie (Lilit Lesser) and the deceased’s partner, drama queen Angel (Luke Pasqualino). They’ll have to come together to figure it out, but they’re too busy bickering…
The Verdict: ‘Dedicated to the hairdressers of the world’ is how the end credits of Medusa Deluxe draws to a close. Writer/director Thomas Hardiman would know of course. His Irish mother is a hairdresser and he grew up in salons, reading Vogue magazine and hearing idle chit-chat while the hairdressing took place. He’s now snipped together a different type of work – his own first feature. It’s an ambitious one at that. Medusa Deluxe is shot entirely in one fluid take and set amongst the hairdressing community as it prepares for a hairdressing competition. Mixed in with that is a murder mystery with lashings of backstage backbiting and rivalry, where personalities are as large and extravagant as the hairstyles. The finger of blame – or should that be scissors – is pointed at a rogues gallery of heightened characters at a tense moment in their lives.
That makes it all sound intriguing and the kind of film that one should rush out to see for its latent camp value. Maybe at one point there was a film here that had all of those elements blended together into an enjoyable 100 minutes of an insider telling a tall tale. Unfortunately, Medusa Deluxe is not that film. After an amusing start, which segues from a logo into a stylish animation and then straight into the hairdressing room, the first act does the narrative heavy lifting and very much shoulders the film. Characters and their motivations are introduced, as one would expect, but then Hardiman doesn’t know what to do with them for the next two acts. Setting up the colourful characters and their confined environment is all well and good, but something needs to come out of that too. The rest of the film is very much aimless, drifting around with the camera as it moves between rooms and corridors. Beyond the offscreen murder, little else happens for the first hour.
It’s evident that this is a film in search of a script, with a lot of the performances coming across as improvised. It’s so loosely structured and lacking narrative momentum that one could go out for a haircut for a few minutes and not miss anything important. It’s not so much a whodunit but a whybother. If Hardiman was using the tried-and-tested format of the whodunit (having something of a moment in its revival) to get audiences interested, then he hasn’t really delivered on that front. He appears to be as less interested in who the murderer is as the characters. The result is a film that never really comes to life in the way that it should, ending abruptly and leaving plot threads hanging in the air before branching off into a puzzling Mamma Mia-style end sequence that doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the film. Robbie Ryan’s luminous cinematography does at least give the film a certain visual aesthetic, enlivening the interiors and staging while unintentionally highlighting the variable performances.
It’s pretty to look at but Medusa Deluxe is a clear case of style over substance, going about it in a clumsy and unconvincing manner. It snips away at whatever good idea was there to begin with, resulting in a bad hair day that won’t make the customer happy.