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Panic Fest 2023 Medusa Deluxe Review- Stylish, Stunning, Hair Confection Murder Mystery

It’s challenging to describe Medusa Deluxe showing at Panic Fest 2023. A24’s hairdresser competition murder mystery dark comedy is a vibe. If you have seen any of the distributor’s other dramas, you know they are known for a certain quirkiness to their films. Their horror films are more twisted than simply scary, and psychological dramas feature more psychotic breaks than American Psycho. But they are just quiet breaks with reality instead of bombastic, blood-soaked, hallucinogenic ones. Medusa Deluxe is more of the same bizarre niche universe(that really does exist, by the way) where stylists compete in regional and national competitions with amazing, over-the-top creations, and no one cares that much if people turn up dead.

It’s a visually stunning film full of fantastical creations, wild colors, and equally colorful characters. Murder notwithstanding, this is a place you might love to visit for a while to fill up on eye candy and gossip. In keeping with the complex creations, writer/director Thomas Hardiman weaves an intricate web of deceit and murder. His bewitching debut film is everything you might want in a debut film. It’s buzzy, intoxicating, and a technical marvel. When a star stylist named Mosca is found very dead and very scalped the night before an expected win, the remaining competitors and their models nervously discuss what might have happened and who did it.

Rivals Cleve, Clare Perkins, delivering a seething performance as a powerful and rage-filled woman, and Divine, Kayla Meikle’s religious foe, don’t just speculate on the murder. They also wonder if the entire contest is rigged while everyone waits to be questioned by the police. There’s a lot to unpack, and the dialogue comes at you fast. Divine and Cleve, in particular, hurl obscenities and ugliness at each at breakneck speed. Additional competitors and models all wonder nervously what happened as they look over their stylishly coifed shoulders.

Hardiman’s eclectic cast of characters includes Angel, the distraught husband of the deceased, a suspicious security guard named Gac(Heider Ali), and Rene(Darrell D’Silva), who has to deliver the news to Angel(Luke Pasqualino). D’Silva’s Rene is a pompous, pompadoured preening peacock who is the completion organizer and previous lover of Mosca. While Angel is a cartoonishly campy teary-eyed drama queen. Each actor does an admirable job, with Perkins and Pasqualino being standouts.

Medusa Deluxe is more about group dynamics than any individual. They are all archetypes, and Hardiman pulls no punches leaning into the thematic obviousness. We hardly get to know any of the individuals, but we intimately become acquainted with the group. How it works together, grows, grieves, hates, and loves. Hardiman’s film is more about watching this group operate. It’s about the inner workings of families, found or otherwise. None of them seem to care much about the dead man, which feels natural in this ruthless world. Medusa Deluxe is a reflection of its characters, high gloss, obsessively reflective, and rigidly self-serving.

The camera acts as our eyes and ears, spreading gossip like a virus from room to room. DP Robbie Ryan lovingly catches endless staircases, winding hallways, and gorgeously lit rooms, and Hardiman clearly has an eye for arresting beauty. With so many room and character changes, you would expect it to feel disconnected, but instead, Fouad Gaber’s editing keeps things gliding smoothly from story to story and from room to room. All of the technical arts are on full display as the art of hairdressing is window dressing for production designer Gary Williamson’s eye-popping imagery, and cinematographer Robbie Ryan makes the stark lighting of the bowels of the competition look as pretty as the glittering majesty of sequins and gold lame.

Most impressive is a tricky camera shot that acts as a time-lapse sequence in the most stunning way. It is so well done that you might miss what has happened if you aren’t paying attention. It’s so seamless it bleeds together, oozing off the screen. Finally, I would be remiss in not mentioning on-set hair artist Eugene Souleiman whose hair confection sparkles, dazzles, shines, and mesmerizes with endless texture, color, length, and adornment.

A final act dance sequence is more fun than it should be, juxtaposed with the grit and nastiness of the murder mystery. It is a feel-good moment that the film may not have earned but somehow seems wonderfully suited. Medusa Deluxe is a captivating film that tells a story in an unconventional way. This film both shows and tells, striking a perfect balance between visual and script cues. It may not be for everyone, but for those who appreciate good art, you won’t find anything prettier. Find all our Panic Fest coverage here.