In “Medusa Deluxe,” the snakes are not in the hair, but around it: a collective of human predators that stealthily wriggle and hiss around various salons and platforms of a high-end hairstyling competition. Most are poisonous, and at least one is deadly, or so it seems when a star stylist is found, not just murdered but literally scalped, the night before his long-awaited pageant victory. That’s the setting for British director-screenwriter Thomas Hardiman’s glitzy, flashy feature debut “Medusa Deluxe,” a gossip-fueled murder mystery that revels more in rounding up its many unusual suspects than in any kind of logical detective work. and procedural: Whodunnit is not a pressing question in a movie where everyone is 100% that bitch.
It sounds good on paper and looks great on screen, thanks in no small part to genius DP Robbie Ryan, who, after dizzying collaborations with the likes of Andrea Arnold and Yorgos Lanthimos, is finally able to add a one-shot movie to his resume. . At least, that’s how “Medusa Deluxe” is presented, with its various swaying and interwoven Steadicam shots deftly pasted together by editor Fouad Gaber to suggest jerky, uninterrupted motion, more akin to the garish, springy artifice of “Birdman” than to the sandy dip. from last year’s “Boiling Point”. Still, this kinetic presentation, while not entirely novel, doesn’t entirely repair the weaknesses of Hardiman’s script, with its exhausting whirlwind of characters more colorful than shaded, and a plot that ultimately runs out of compelling distractions from the matter at hand. .
That won’t stop this cheerful, acid-bright confection from pleasing more festival crowds after its premiere on Locarno’s crowd-facing Piazza Grande beach, while it’s easy to see why distributors have already pocketed the card. Hardiman’s introduction, with A24 grabbing the North American rights and Mubi taking a glut of global territories. They may have a harder time selling this starless, vibe-filled event beyond the festival circuit, but it makes sense to get involved downstairs with Hardiman, whose penchant for salty dialogue and swanky staging sets him apart from many. recent British first-year students, and could possibly find more commercial use in future projects.
“Medusa Deluxe” has its raucousness from the jump, beginning with a digitally animated overture that zooms through a surreal desert of skyscraper-sized hairdressing products and implements, before Ryan’s traveling camera takes over. and keep up the pace. We’re introduced to rival saloon owners Cleve (star of the mile-a-minute ensemble Clare Perkins, formerly a regular on the British soap opera “EastEnders”) and Divine (Kayla Meikle), whose loveless, swear-heavy back-and-forth turning while practicing his wacky tonsoral creations sets the tone for the speech for the next 90 minutes. Cleve, in particular, spews out a barely analyzable torrent of community history involving friends, foes, and colleagues from the past, with a memorable result: “Barbers-in-training don’t survive exploding cars.”
However, any intrigue about this is put to rest when news reaches them that Mosca, the competition favorite, has been found dead in the compound, the flesh ripped from his once presumably well-groomed scalp. The messenger is René (Darrell D’Silva), lavishly tufted, lace-shirted, permanent vaping organizer and ex-lover of the deceased. His successor in Mosca’s affections, the nervous and hot-headed Angel (Luke Pasqualino), soon arrives on the scene, weeping and wailing glamorously, with the couple’s baby, the least garish presence here by some distance, in tow.
Other players in this unruly game of Clue include cheeky blonde Kendra (Harriet Webb), whose air of no-nonsense confidant cuts through the prevailing hostility, a herd of restless rumor-spreading models, and the scowling security guard Gac (Heider Ali), who may or may not have some nasty secrets related to the dead man, and whose clean-shaven dome couldn’t more clearly mark him as an unwanted outsider in this world. Performances within the ensemble range from entertaining barn storms to over-the-top hysteria, with no one being very motivated to find a real, raw character beneath a flurry of poses and attitudes.
“Medusa Deluxe” makes no apology for its reliance on stereotypes as big and wide and space-consuming as many of the ornate hairstyles it so lovingly showcases – one particularly lavish bouquet is due to Wella’s chief stylist and creative director, Eugene Souleiman. , whose compelling editorial creations give this low-budget company a much-needed dash of couture credibility. But after a while, the combination of abrasive, impenetrably lacquered characters and a deliberately and desperately tangled furry-dog narrative starts to get boring, and viewers may wish for an easier way into it.
Each and every trade-off comes through the film’s formal verve, as Ryan’s camera continues to strut undaunted through the chaos, assuming and changing warm, fluorescent color schemes like so many discarded outfits, all while set to a score. sparse and throbbing from British electro artist Koreless. However, just when you expect the filming to fade completely, Hardiman cuts off unexpectedly, opting for a feel-good disco scene call that owes more to “Mamma Mia.” than the film’s earlier bird’s nest of influences, encompassing early Almodóvar, Altman, Sally Potter and a sprinkling of British television at teatime. It’s debatable whether these characters have earned such an indulgence: in the mirror-filled world of “Medusa Deluxe,” almost everyone is the star of their own melodrama and styled accordingly.