THE STORY – Talented and cutthroat hairstylists at a competition find one of their own murdered before judging can begin. Winding through neon-lit halls, competitors unspool long-simmering resentments and lies as they search for the killer among them.
THE CAST – Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Clare Perkins, Darrell D’Silva, Debris Stevenson, Harriet Webb, Heider Ali, Kae Alexander, Kayla Meikle, Lilit Lesser, Luke Pasqualino & Nicholas Karimi
THE TEAM – Thomas Hardiman (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 101 Minutes
There’s a great deal one can learn from being forced into a small space. The sense of claustrophobia can be suffocating but also incredibly illuminating. Being made to stay within particular confines also means confronting the naked emotions that rise to the surface. There’s no escaping both the physical and mental anguish as it manifests in every corner that one attempts to seek refuge in. These settings are particularly interesting spaces to explore in storytelling. The landscapes are small but can paradoxically harbor a significant thematic impact. “Medusa Deluxe” never strays far from its confines but aims to delve into the twisted psyches on display. Its craft is impressive but, unfortunately, struggles to keep itself entirely engaging.
The focus here is on a group of individuals who have all gathered for a local hairdressing competition. However, a dark cloud has descended upon this event, bringing out conflict in every corner. Moments before the contest was set to begin, one of the participants was found murdered. As the police investigate, they all have been forced to stay inside. As the night progresses, suspicions are cast all around. The perpetrator could be Cleve (Clare Perkins), the brash and outspoken stylist who has shown an aggressive competitive side. Kendra (Harriet Webb) was known to be involved in a cheating scandal and could have sought retribution. Rene (Darrell D’Silva) and Angel (Luke Pasqualino) have both run in romantic circles with the deceased, which also involved illicit drug dealings, which may have contributed to his demise. A creepy security guard named Gac (Heider Ali) wanders the halls with an ominous gait. Suspicions are thrown in every direction as the madness takes its toll.
Thomas Hardiman certainly looks to make a bold showcase with his feature directorial debut here. The film is yet another example of making its extended sequences appear as if in one continuous take, watching the night unfold in real-time and uninterrupted. It’s a method that can have mixed results, but one does appreciate the vibrancy that is still created. Every room is splashed with vivid neon colors, and the characters walking through the shadowy hallways give an immediate sense of dread. The presentation feels both cinematic and theatrical, and the atmosphere of horror is thick with tension without ever completely indulging in more graphic sensibilities. Hardiman’s filmmaking manifests striking compositions and an effectively moody aura that draws an audience into the slowly unraveling chaos.
Yet, even with such a notable directorial control, the narrative that is presented ends up leaving much more to be desired. So much emphasis is placed on this tone that the more personal connection to the characters is far more elusive. As the camera glides in and out of these arenas and follows every person to a new location, one feels as if the intriguing dynamics between these people only scratches the surface. The murder itself might as well only function as a plot device, the element to cut off the exits and force the participants into this cage. However, hardly any aspect of the mystery is satisfying, least of all its conclusion. That disappointment would be tolerable if the plight of these characters was more compelling. As is, it’s a fairly shallow depiction with mundane dynamics, with few characters to make an impact given their ample number.
Despite the roles themselves not manifesting the most memorable impression, the actors do quite a lot to stand out. Perkins, in particular, lights up every scene with a fiery tenacity that roars in like a raging ball of energy. She portrays a confidence that takes command yet can soften at just the right places to humanize this woman. It’s quite an engrossing turn, matched similarly by Webb, who is also charming in her own abrasive way. Ali brings an unpredictable menace that is a tad one-dimensional but efficient all the same, and D’Silva has a natural charisma that feels grounded. The only member of the ensemble with a prominent function that isn’t as successful is Pasqualino, indulging in histrionics that never mesh with the material. There are occasions when his performance is more understated towards the end, but it’s not enough to compensate for the caricature that preceded it.
It’s hard to deny that much of “Medusa Deluxe” is noteworthy regarding its ambition. Hardiman’s vision is often an arresting array of remarkable visuals that combine with a tone of escalating tension that is wholly alluring. However, the story lacks so much at the core. The characters are thinly drawn, and therefore so are their motivations. The catharsis the narrative builds towards is weakly delivered and emotionally distant, which would have become a bigger detriment were it not for this able ensemble. There may not be much to mine from this limited space, but it can be infrequently satisfying.