Thanks to the efforts of Rian Johnson, murder mysteries are back in the public lexicon! His delivery of Knives Out, its sequel Glass Union, and the Poker Face TV show have brought the era of Agatha Christie and Murder She Wrote to a new generation. Given how popular murder mysteries are, it’s a surprise we haven’t seen more from this once (and now once again) popular genre of movies and TV series. A24, (the studio that doesn’t seem to miss…like ever) decided to dip their toes into the murder mystery game with their latest offering Medusa Deluxe.
In his feature debut, writer/director Thomas Hardiman takes us into the world of competitive hairstyling across the pond. However, as we find out at the beginning of Medusa Deluxe, a murder has happened and a hairstylist has been killed and scalped, (we actually never see a body though) and now everyone in the competition not only has to process the death of one of their friends/frenemies, but one of them might actually be a suspect! Right off the bat, we get to see that (like in Knives Out), the suspects in Medusa Deluxe aren’t going to be people the audience will like as evidenced by the introduction of a hairstylist who through just sheer gossip, lets us all know that she has no qualms about using violence. This attempts to set the tone that things aren’t as they seem, someone’s responsible for a murder, and everyone’s a suspect.
Everyone in this competition still has to remain in the warehouse that the beauty competition took place in, so this gives the audience plenty of time to navigate between different groups of hair stylists as they all have a reason to want the victim dead, but at the same time, they are also sympathetic to his demise. Medusa Deluxe is shot as a continuous one-take throughout the film’s one hour and forty-six-minute runtime, and the cinematography is outstanding, enough to make Roger Deakins blush and it’s hard for someone like me (who loves one-take shots in movies and TV shows) to try and see where the secret cuts are hidden. The camera traverses through each different room in the warehouse and navigates through up to a dozen characters who are all trying to understand what’s going on, and also not look one hundred percent guilty when they trash talk the deceased.
For a film that is firing on all cylinders in regard to cinematic style (in addition to the continuous one-take shot, the lighting throughout the warehouse is outstanding), Medusa Deluxe falls short when it comes to actual storytelling. The film seems to be more focused on showing instead of telling. Now in most cases, this is a great way to present a film, but the “story” part of the story wears thin in comparison to the visual style of Medusa Deluxe. Besides a few characters we get to spend a great deal of time with, many of the beauticians are simply passengers in the story as we don’t get to spend too much time with them.
For being a whodunnit, it’s pretty clear who the culprit is in Medusa Deluxe. In fact, it’s not even a difficult guess as to who the person is, but the film decides to change things up towards the end of the film and show exactly how we got to where we are at the beginning of Medusa Deluxe and then give context as to why that person died and why they were scalped. Honestly, it’s a little bit of a letdown, but the journey in this film is the bonus, not the destination.
While Medusa Deluxe does stumble a little bit in its execution of the story, the visual flair is top-notch. As someone who really loves a good one-take shot, I was thrilled to watch it for an entire movie, and it didn’t feel like it was “cheating” with the cinematography, but instead, it was a first-time director absolutely flexing on the audience with what he’s capable of when it comes to a signature visual style. The extensive cast are all doing a bang-up job making you believe them in this world. If any of them really are hair stylists in real life, you absolutely believe they are by how effective their acting is. Once again, with this being a one-take film (or at least presented that way), the actors never miss a beat throughout the entire film and seamlessly move from one scene to the next. Everything from gossiping, to babysitting, to doing hair while gossiping and babysitting, and even a fistfight between them is all honest and earned by the flawless execution by everyone involved.
If you are expecting a huge Knives Out type of twist and revelation, you’ll be disappointed. But if you are interested in seeing a well-executed film try and peel the layers off on a murder mystery with impressive visual competence, Medusa Deluxe is the film for you. Some of the British slang words and colloquialisms take some getting used to (I keep forgetting what British folks call cigarettes), but it’s a fun view into a completely different world. A world that just happens to have a murder mystery that needs to be solved, and solved within one take!
Medusa Deluxe is currently available on VOD.