A blend of horror and satire unveiling the violent paradoxes of religious hypocrisy and aesthetic expectations.
“Hell is a teenage girl” is a statement that the group of devout young Christian women in Anita Rocha da Silveira’s highly stylised second feature would no doubt take offence at, while at the same time, would ironically go to extreme lengths to corroborate. Singing the Lord’s praises by day at a neon-soaked, flashy church, and turning into a vigilante gang roaming the streets by night, this elite group of young women known in their community as The Treasures is dedicated to violently attacking those they deem to be sinners and sluts. Because what better way to convince women to accept Jesus into their hearts than to (checks notes) …beat them into submission?
Medusa opens boisterously with a long shot of a woman contorting her body as she performs a hypnotic dance set to the synth-heavy ripple of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ ‘Cities in Dust’. The footage is revealed to be a clip that’s being watched on a phone by a young woman who’s travelling on a bus at night, before she’s chased down by a group women donning white, featureless masks. Even the act of enjoying a seemingly provocative dance video is considered transgressive enough to warrant a beating.
Da Silveira presents a hyper-aestheticised, fascist and fundamentalist society where right-wing populism masquerading as Christianity holds a firm grip over a near-future Brazilian town. The Treasures are chaste; unsullied; modest, and appearance carries immense significance for them. The troupe’s leader, Michele, (Lara Tremouroux) is an influencer whose videos include tips such as “How to take the perfect Christian selfie”, and Mari (Mari Oliveira) works as a plastic surgeon’s assistant. Their male counterparts, the Watchmen of Sion, are part paramilitary unit, part sports team, and spend their time engaging in choreographed martial arts numbers that aim to highlight their virility.
After Mari’s face is slashed by one of the gang’s victims during an assault, the barely noticeable scar on her cheek prompts her employer to question her suitability for promoting state-sponsored beauty to affluent clients who are sensitive to any imperfections. In response, Mari decides to seek employment at a clinic for comatose patients, where she and Michele believe that Melissa, a social outcast and the inspiration behind the Treasures’ mission, is secretly staying. A former model and actress, Melissa’s face was burned by an assailant and her enigmatic presence drives the film’s shift into the myth of Medusa. As Mari settles into her new job, she experiences a newfound awakening that prompts her to question her once-deeply held beliefs.
The film is far from bashful about its myriad of Bertrand Bonello-isms, unsubtle links to Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, and allusions to Argento, Carpenter and Kubrick, so much so that it settles for a facile trajectory and strains to achieve a coherent artistic impact even as it ambitiously blends moods and genres. Its strengths and richness lie more in boasting a potent mix of universality in its rebellion against entrapment within societal ideals of self-worth, as well as cultural specificity and pertinence apropos the impact that white evangelists have over the political landscape in modern-day Brazil.
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Published 12 Jul 2023
Looks like a promising update to the Medusa myth.
The final act goes hard, but boy does it take long to get there…
Albeit lacking in subtlety, this is a stylish film that revels in its ardent political commentary.