Director Thomas Hardiman's debut feature Medusa Deluxe is a "deconstructed murder mystery," he tells us over Zoom, the creation of which involved "mashing things together and pulling them apart."
Glossy, camp, and drenched in neon light, Medusa Deluxe is set backstage at a regional hairdressing competition, where proceedings are thrown into disarray when a model finds the corpse of one of the competing stylists. Unlike traditional murder mysteries though, there's no detective cracking the case, and the police have a very peripheral role in the film – it's the hair models who start putting the clues together.
"If you can rip out the detective and some of the classic tenets of what a murder mystery is, you've got a chance to bring it into the modern day and be reflective of the way in which we move through media," Hardiman explains. "I think a lot about the internet, about how that's changed how we perceive storytelling. My nieces get all their hairdressing and makeup knowledge from really long YouTube [videos], and those were kind of inspirational to the way in which we were telling this story and how I wanted it to be – long takes and fluid camera movement."
Despite the integral role that hairdressing plays in the film, Hardiman hasn't worked in the industry himself, but he "loves" it. "There's a hierarchy of creativity, where art, literature, and film are way up here," he gestures. "And then fashion and hairdressing are things that people don't put on the pedestal, and it bugs me because there's the same level of passion and creativity in them if you take the time to find it."
Eugene Souleiman was the film's hair designer, and he's "as good as it possibly gets", according to Hardiman, who compares Souleiman's hairstyles to contemporary sculpture. "I was aware that what I was interested in – contemporary sculpture, which is effectively post-internet collage sculpture – was reflected in the way that he was doing hair. He was breaking it down and showing the artifice. It's from punk culture with him, and it's from internet culture with me, but we've got a kinship in the way we work. And then [the film is] breaking down murder mystery, we're showing you the backstage competition, everything fits together."
You may have heard of method acting, a technique used by actors like Succession's Jeremy Strong, where someone will "become" the character they're playing, but Medusa Deluxe employed something a little different behind the scenes. "Eugene was like, 'I want to approach it like a method hairdresser and be in the head of the hairdressers while I'm doing the hair,'" Hardiman says. The director also aimed to use the hairstyling in the film as an alternative narrative device. "Storytelling is important to me. We're in a different time where people have seen certain things before, so how can you show things to people in a new way?"
Part of this innovativeness, Hardiman says, stems from a seemingly unlikely source: the Nintendo GameCube games of his childhood. "If you're growing up in today's world, you're getting so many things thrown at you so quickly. References and elements of what you do creatively are from all over the place, it's a hodgepodge," he explains. "I grew up playing Mario Sunshine and controlling a camera around Mario, and that's the first control I ever had of a camera. That's a massive influence."
A filmmaker's influences often range far and wide and, for Hardiman, they span from Super Mario to critically acclaimed French cinema. Medusa Deluxe's end credits feature a dance number complete with glitzy silver costumes, and he says Claire Denis is to thank for that. "She's a massive influence, and Beau Travail's final dance was a real moment for me," he says, adding that Medusa Deluxe's end credits text is also a direct reference to Denis' film. "At the same time, I like dance culture. I like techno music a hell of a lot. How do you put that into filmmaking? How do you take people somewhere new? I don't want to be tied down to a traditional way of storytelling."
Medusa Deluxe is in UK cinemas now. For more viewing inspiration, fill out your watch list with our picks of the most exciting upcoming movies on the way in 2023 and beyond.