In her sophomore feature Medusa (2022), writer-director Anita Rocha da Silveira (Kill Me Please) creates a thematically and stylistically bold take on religious correctness that will throw you off if you are not familiar with the situation in Brazil. Those who have seen Kill Me Please will, nevertheless, be able to follow the heady and strange mix of satire and provocation. Yet the audacious theme is not matched with an equally tight script. It begins with a closeup of a woman’s eye, and then steadily pans out to find her on the floor, contouring as part of some dance. This is an evangelical native land meant only for following the path shown by Jesus, flowing in chastity and sanctity. Anyone who dares to be different (especially women), is confronted and shamed.
This act of moral vigilance is performed by a group of eight girls headlined by Mari (Mari Oliveira): all of them put on a weird white masks, chase women during the nocturnal hours, and beat her mercilessly. They then film her uttering words of forgiveness as well as submission to the Lord. The deliberate and odd musical number that follows, where the group performs a religious pop song, sets the indulgent tone just right. It is their test- to prove that they are worthy of the Lord’s attention, and to rely on the institution of marriage that will soon follow.
Things do not run smoothly as on one of those occasions, a girl fights back. She attacks Mari with a broken glass bottle and leaves a wound on her face. As a result, she is fired from her job at the plastic surgery cabin. Then there is Clarrisa (Bruna G) who arrives at their place as if rescued from her living situation. Mari’s cousin Mariana (Mari Oliveira), welcomes her home. We come to know that Mariana is obsessed with Melissa García (Bruna Linzmeyer), a celebrity who is rumored to have vanished long ago after being maimed for doing a nude scene in one of her movies.
This will lead to Mari’s quest, a journey that in strange ways will be an awakening of her own sexual desires. Medusa goes headstrong through these characters, introducing one after the other without leaking much detail. The version of Christian sanctity that prevails upon these characters becomes a dizzying metaphor for the emerging trends of fascism that include moralizing and misogyny. Yet, these girls express autonomy in their choices, appeasing the Lord through following their patriarchal norms. The presence of the creepy Pastor Guilherme (Thiago Fragoso) is proof of how they are the women who are hunted down. It all comes together in a stunning reveal, that is better left to be seen.
Suffused through a neon undertone of colors that find resemblance with the discomforting situation of the girls, Medusa is often bowed down by its own elements. Uneven in its progression, the film is way too long to hold one’s attention given the characters are half-written. The soundtrack is a mix of old pop covers rehashed to suit the assurance displayed by these bunch of girls. Given that it is aiming at the hypocritical nature of religious morality, the idea feels lost somewhere within all the loud style and execution. The constant breaking of the fourth wall by Oliveira becomes unnecessary and tiresome. Add to that, the dynamic between Mari and Michele, so important for the revelation, is treated more with a sense of fascination than belief. Will Mari be able to know the truth about it all? Will the awakening lead to a disruption and consequent act of sin in God’s name?
These questions keep the action going in Medusa, which remains pregnant with promise but falters in bringing them alive. The satire occasionally bites, aided by the finely tuned performances by the cast, yet mostly reels under its own camouflage. Silveira is constantly redefining the ways in which she wants her audience to crack the codes, yet so much is spent alone in that attempt, that the markers are never truly established. The problem is how every character is exaggerated to a point that there is no circumference of faith and trust. The actions feel staged, not surprising. In the end, Medusa feels bowed down by its own elements, struggling to free itself.