Black Medusa review – deadpan North African vengeance noir

Here is a stylised and self-aware serial killer drama in black-and-white, broken down into nine “nights”. A young woman called Nada (Nour Hajri) picks up men in bars, playing on their protective gallantry or predatory instinct for weakness, by pretending to be vocally impaired and needing a voice app on her phone to speak. She goes home with them after a few drinks and horror ensues. But Nada finds herself vulnerable in falling for a young woman at her workplace, Noura (Rym Hayouni), who herself begins to realise what is happening in Nada’s after-hours existence.

Black Medusa comes from first-time Tunisian film-makers Youssef Chebbi and Ismaël, who may conceivably be fans of Ana Lily Amirpour’s cult monochrome vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. There is a scene when Nada is walking one of her victims back to his apartment and a couple of cats wander into view that reminded me of Amirpour’s very cat-friendly movie. And Nada’s deadpan and implacable avenger might put you in mind of Carey Mulligan’s assailant in Promising Young Woman.

The noir mood of menace and emotional deadness in Black Medusa has been very carefully contrived and curated. Perhaps the ultimate irony is that it is Nada who has been turned to stone. I wasn’t sure quite how far the procedural aspect of serial-killing takes us in this film, however – either as commentary on the macho culture of north Africa (or anywhere) or as a drama on its own terms. The approach is cool, blank, as if the film does not want to risk investing too much in what is happening. And I wasn’t sure how much was waiting for us at the end of the garden path along which we are being led.

There are some very sharp moments, particularly one victim who starts sharing about how romance died between him and his long-term partner when they decided to get married: “We stopped being in love on our wedding day.”

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