Review: ‘Medusa Deluxe,’ starring Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Clare Perkins, Darrell D’Silva, Debris Stevenson, Harriet Webb, Heider Ali, Kae Alexander, Kayla Meikle, Lilit Lesser and Luke Pasqualino

October 23, 2023

by Carla Hay

Clare Perkins and Lilit Lesser in “Medusa Deluxe” (Photo by Robbie Ryan/A24)

“Medusa Deluxe”

Directed by Thomas Hardiman

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in England, the comedy/drama film “Medusa Deluxe” features a racially diverse (white, black, Latin and Asian) cast of characters portraying the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Hairstylists and their associates, who are preparing for a hairstyling competition, try to solve the mystery of who recently murdered a nearby salon owner.

Culture Audience: “Medusa Deluxe” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching offbeat murder mysteries with unusual characters.

Darrell D’Silva in “Medusa Deluxe” (Photo by Robbie Ryan/A24)

“Medusa Deluxe” is an ambitious and interesting but erratic murder mystery happening during a hairstyling contest. This frenetic dramedy would have worked better as a stage play. The characters are memorable though. The best scenes outshine any flaws. “Medusa Deluxe” made the rounds at several film festivals in 2022, including the Locarno Film Festival, where “Medusa Deluxe” had its world premiere. The film is acerbic, often weird, and filmed like it takes place in a neon-lit underground nightclub, where the amateur sleuths are neurotic hairdressers and their associates.

“Medusa Deluxe” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Thomas Hardiman. The movie is definitely not intended to have the same appeal as blockbuster films. It’s the type of quirky independent film where after the first 15 minutes, viewers will either be intrigued enough to want to watch more or will be turned off completely. Some of the characters talk in thick British accents (without English-language subtitles) and use a lot of British slang, so it might be difficult for some viewers to understand certain parts of the movie’s dialogue.

Filmed as if it’s in real time, “Medusa Deluxe” begins in a hair salon, just a few hours before the contest is set to begin. The movie takes place in an unnamed city in England. The people in the salon are abuzz about the death of a rival salon owner named Mosca (played by John Alan Roberts, shown in flashbacks), whose salon is nearby. Mosca had a particularly gruesome murder: He was scalped. No one in the salon seems to know exactly when Mosca was murdered, but they assume (based on what they’ve heard about the condition of his body), the murdered happened in the past 24 hours.

The people in the salon are waiting for investigating police to arrive to interview them. The hairstylist who is the loudest and most volatile in this group is salon worker Cleve (played by Clare Perkins), who is paranoid and superstitious about how this murder will affect her life and her chances in the upcoming contest. Cleve says that her father told her, “Evil will triumph” and “They follow me, dead people.”

Cleve had a tension-filled relationship with Mosca. She tells a story about hitting him over the head once with a shampoo bottle. What Cleve doesn’t say out loud right away but is pretty obvious is that because of her known history of conflicts with Mosca, she might become the prime suspect in his murder. Cleve can’t hide her nervousness about what she will say when the police arrive.

Also in the salon is hairstylist Kendra (played by Harriet Webb), who is another person who doesn’t get along well with Cleve. There’s been some gossip that Kendra and Mosca were conspiring to fix the contest so that Kendra would win. Not surprisingly, Cleve is furious about it. But does that mean Kendra killed Mosca to keep him quiet?

Another hair stylist is Divine (played by Kayla Meikle), who spreads gossip and misinformation, not necessarily to be malicious but because she likes to act as if she knows more than other people do. Three female models who are getting their hair styled for the contest are Timba (played by Anita-Joy Uwajeh), Angie (played by Lilit Lesser) and Etsy (played by Debris Stevenson), whose personalities aren’t as forceful as the hairstylists. Timba is the one who found Mosca’s body. Etsy starts to become suspicious of Kendra.

Some other characters might or might not be persons of interest in this murder. Mosca’s live-in boyfriend Angel (played by Luke Pasqualino), a very flamboyant Colombian immigrant, shows up and makes it known to everyone how much he is grieving. Mosca and Angel have an infant son named Pablo, whom Angel carries around with him, because apparently Angel couldn’t find a babysitter.

It turns out that Mosca was having a secret affair with a man named Rene (played by Darrell D’Silva), the director of a regional hairstyling competition who bankrolled Mosca’s salon. And that revelation adds more potential suspects to the list. Could Rene or Angel be the murderer? There’s also a socially awkward security guard named Gac (played by Heider Ali), who lurks about and seems to want to become friends with Rene.

“Medusa Deluxe” is often a cacophony of arguments, suspicions and resentments that erupt between this group of people. Although they want to know who killed Mosca, the hairstyling contest isn’t far from their minds. No one wants to drop out of the contest because of the murder.

Some of the fun in watching “Medusa Deluxe” is seeing the wild hairstyles that are being created for the contest. The styling of the hair is treated like avant-garde works of art, with wiring and extra materials infused in the hair to achieve the illusion that the hair is some type of art sculpture. (“The bigger, the better” is apparently one of the standards.)

The acting performances in “Medusa Deluxe” are adequate, with the exception of Pasqualino, whose over-the-top mugging for the camera looks amateurish and quickly gets annoying in how it becomes a shallow stereotype of gay men. However, “Medusa Deluxe” is unusual enough to hold the interest of people who don’t mind watching a bunch of unconventional people trying to solve a mystery while under the pressure of being in an upcoming contest that can affect their careers. The answer to the mystery isn’t too surprising, but there are a few clever surprises along the way.

A24 released “Medusa Deluxe” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on August 11, 2023.

Review: ‘Censor’ (2021), starring Niamh Algar

June 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Niamh Algar in “Censor” (Photo by Maria Lax/Magnet Releasing)

“Censor” (2021)

Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond

Culture Representation: Taking place in early 1980s England, the horror film “Censor” features a predominantly white cast (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman who works as a movie censor begins experiencing nightmarish visions related to a tragedy from her past. 

Culture Audience: “Censor” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in horror films that put more emphasis on creating unsettling atmospheres than providing easy answers.

Niamh Algar in “Censor” (Photo by Maria Lax/Magnet Releasing)

“Censor” is the type of horror movie that won’t satisfy people who are looking for a predictable ending, but it succeeds in immersing viewers into the psychological terror of a very disturbed mind. The movie has plenty of gory and bloody murder scenes, but what many viewers might find more frightening is being taken into a world where fact and fantasy are constantly blurred and play tricks on people’s sense of reality. Niamh Algar’s riveting performance in “Censor” elevates the movie’s tendency to be repetitive, which could have dragged down the story if not for Algar’s commendable acting.

Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, “Censor” is her feature-film directorial debut, based on Bailey-Bond’s short film “Nasty.” Bailey-Bond and Anthony Fletcher co-wrote the screenplay for “Censor,” which takes place in early 1980s England, when the VHS video boom caused an increase in direct-to-video releases that could bypass the censors. Horror movies in particular benefited from the direct-to-video business model. And in England, these uncensored films became known as “video nasties.”

“Censor” takes place during a time when the British Board of Film Censors (which changed its name to the British Board of Film Classification in 1984) was adapting to the increasing distribution of videotapes sold directly to consumers as a new format for the movie industry. The BBFC, which is a non-governmental group founded by the film industry, works in a way that’s similar to the Motion Picture Association of America, by classifying or rating films, based on the minimum age that would be deemed appropriate to see those films.

In “Censor,” Algar portrays Enid Baines, a prim and proper spinster in her 30s who works for the BBFC. She takes her job very seriously and is a stickler for details. In an opening scene of the “Censor,” she has a conversation with her condescending co-worker Sanderson (played by Nicholas Burns) about a scene they watched in a horror movie that’s being evaluated for a rating classification.

Enid says to Sanderson, “The decapitation is ridiculous. It’s the eye gouging. It’s too realistic. Plus, I was trying to see who dragged her away.” Sanderson replies, “Does it matter? … I appreciate you analyzing this with clear precision, Enid. But someone perhaps got out of the cautious side of the bed this morning.”

Enid ignores Sanderson’s attempt to belittle her as uptight. Fortunately, not all of her co-workers are disrespectful. Enid also works closely with matronly Anne (played by Clare Perkins) and easygoing Perkins (played by Danny Lee Wynter), who both express concerns to Enid about her emotional well-being if it looks like she’s particularly disturbed by any of the violent content that she has to screen for her job. Enid experiences sexual harassment from a movie producer named Doug Smart (played by Michael Smiley) when he makes rude and sexist comments to her while he visiting in the office.

“Censor” doesn’t really show much of Enid’s home life, because viewers will get the impression that her life revolves around her work. However, there’s a tragedy from Enid’s past that has been haunting her. And a decision that her parents have made about this tragedy seems to set Enid off on a downward spiral of madness.

One day, Enid’s parents June Baines (played by Clare Holman) and George Baines (played by Andrew Havill) invite her to dinner at a restaurant to tell her some important news: They have decided to officially declare their missing daughter Lucy as dead. Lucy, who was Enid’s younger sister, disappeared in the forest of Chorleywood (a village in England), in 1958, when Lucy was 7 years old. Enid was about 12 or 13 at the time, and she was with Lucy on the day that Lucy disappeared. At the time, Lucy and Enid were living with their parents in Brimstead, Middlesex.

Enid has vague and fractured memories of Lucy’s disappearance. Because she could never fully remember what happened when Lucy disappeared, it has added to the tremendous guilt that Enid has felt ever since. Enid disagrees with her parents’ decision to declare that Lucy is dead, because Enid thinks there’s still a possibility that Lucy could still be alive. Enid also thinks that Lucy was kidnapped.

However, Lucy’s death certificate has already been made official. When Enid’s parents show Enid the death certificate, Enid has a hard time looking at it. Enid’s mother June tries to change the subject and asks Enid if she’s recently seen any good movies to recommend. Enid somberly explains to her mother what Enid’s job is: “It’s not entertainment, mum. I do it to protect people.”

The rising numbers of “video nasties” have created a backlash from certain people in the United Kingdom who want to blame these horror movies on an increase in crime. At the time, the U.K. (under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) was experiencing an economic recession and high unemployment, which is often linked to an increase in crime, but people often want to scapegoat violent movies and TV as the reason. Enid is about to experience this backlash firsthand.

One day, Enid and Sanderson are called into the office of their boss Fraser (played by Victor Franklin), who nervously tells them about a phone call that he got that day from a journalist doing a story about a high-profile murder case. A man was recently arrested for murdering his wife, eating her face, and then shooting and killing their two children. This disturbing crime is eerily similar to a scene from a horror movie titled “Derangement,” and the journalist is linking these murders to the movie. And just like in “Derangement,” the murderer claims to have no memory of committing the crime. The media gave him the nickname the Amnesiac Killer.

Fraser is unnerved because somehow, the journalist knew that Enid and Sanderson were the two censors who evaluated “Derangement” before giving it a rating. Fraser demands a complete internal investigation and for Enid and Sanderson to give him a step-by-step analysis to explain why they decided to allow “Derangement” to be approved for release. Fraser also sternly lectures Enid and Sanderson that if they have any doubts about the content that they evaluate, they should not approve it and ask for edits or reject the movie altogether.

While all of this drama is going on in Enid’s job and personal life, she and Perkins watch a movie that’s up for evaluation. It’s an untitled film from a director called Frederick North. And what Enid sees in the movie seems to push her off the deep end into an abyss of emotional despair. What follows for the rest of “Censor” are flashbacks or hallucinations about what might or might not have happened when Enid and Lucy were in the woods all those years ago.

There’s a tall, menacing hulk—who has the name Beastman (played by Guillaume Delaunay) in the film credits—who is shown lurking in the woods and enticing a young Lucy into his remote house. (Beau Gadsdon plays a young Enid in these flashbacks.) There’s a horror movie called “Asunder” that Enid gets from a video store that offers more pieces to this mind-bending puzzle. An actress named Alice Lee (played by Sophia La Porta) is the star of “Asunder,” and Enid becomes obsessed with her because she fears that Alice is in danger.

One of the more effective aspects of “Censor” is how cinematographer Annika Summerson contrasts the dull and drab hues of Enid’s everyday life with the psychedelic nightmarish hues of Enid’s visions that take place in the forest. If it isn’t obvious to viewers during the movie, it’s made very clear at the end of the film that the forest is a metaphor for Enid’s mind. And getting trapped there is an experience that is not for the faint of heart.

Magnet Releasing released “Censor” in select U.S. cinemas on June 11, 2021, and on digital and VOD on June 18, 2021.

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