At one point in Anita Rocha da Silveira’s Medusa, a girl mentions that women whose names started with the letter M tended to be malicious in character. She listed Mary Magdalene and Messalina as the prime examples, two women who were known—and hated— for their sexuality. In Greek mythology, the gorgon Medusa may have been known for having snakes in her hair and her stone-turning gaze, but another interpretation is that she was a maiden who was turned into a demon by Athena after being raped by Poseidon. It’s a tragic retelling that depicts women punishing other women for not practicing chastity—regardless of whether they wanted to.
In her film, da Silveira gives a glimpse of Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro’s reign: By day, Mari (Mari Oliveira) and her friends promote utter devotion to the Lord through bubblegum pop songs. By night, they put on masks and beat up women they deem “sinners” and “sluts.” Toxic masculinity is rampant through their temple with a charismatic and radical pastor and his de-facto army of male spiritual soldiers, who violently raid dance parties and police the streets.
After an ambush goes wrong, Mari gets a deep scar on her face, leaving her unemployed and questioning everything she has known.
Medusa is rich in style, using bright colors, neon lighting, and a poppy soundtrack to help propel the film forward. Green is a recurring color throughout and constantly surrounds Mari, almost to the point of suffocation. It shapes Mari like a Frankenstein-like creation: a product of her extreme environment who starts to make her own decisions.
On the other side of the spectrum is Mari’s best friend, the leader of the group, Michele (Lara Tremouroux). Michele is blonde, white, and drenched in more pink than Elle Woods. She makes videos about how to take selfies for the glory of God (not too low to look promiscuous and not too high to think you’re as worthy as God himself) and makeup tips for covering bruises. This duality highlights the existing colonialism and colorism in Brazil, and da Silveira subtly adds it without overpowering Mari’s story.
That being said, Medusa’s main plot struggles to compete with other ideas that da Silveira tries to introduce. There’s an obsession with finding a disgraced actress and an induction of a new member. These concepts could have been their own thing, but their presence made the film feel slightly overstuffed.
Medusa shines when it focuses on the repression of women’s feelings. While on the surface, it looks like these girls enjoy spreading the word of God, deep down, there’s anger bubbling inside of them. Da Silveira brilliantly showcases this rage by framing the girls in the center and having them stare directly at the audience like they are crying for help. What follows is a goosebump-inducing finale that makes up for earlier missteps.
Despite focusing more on style than substance, da Silveira crafts a story that is relevant today. With the world in constant turmoil, marginalized communities are feeling like their voices are getting shut out. But da Silveira lets us know that it’s okay to scream.
Medusa arrives on Video On Demand digital release on September 13th, 2022. Watch the trailer below.