TIFF2021 – On Anita Rocha da Silveira’s Medusa (2021)

Review by Jennifer Valencia

Medusa

Directed by Anita Rocha da Silveira

In Anita Rocha da Silveira’s Medusa (2021) a gang of creepy masked girls wearing creepy roam the streets at night beating up and “converting” any other women who they deem sinful, in the name of Jesus. This gang is made up of a girl singing group called Michele and the Treasures of the Lord who are the cool girls/mean girls of an evangelical church group.

Mira (Mira Oliveira) is at the centre of the film. She is one of the Treasures along with her best friend Michele (the head Treasure). Her alliance and commitment to the group begins to wane when her face is scarred after one of their victims fights back. With her beauty seemingly diminished, she begins to lose confidence in herself as well as her place within the group. After getting a job at a clinic for comatose patients, she begins to change in unexpected ways. It is here where her desires are awakened and she fears that a demon has possessed her. However, she may be breaking free from her oppressors.

Silvera was motivated to make this film by the unexpected rise of radical Christain factions in Brazil and across South America. She shows us a society in which social media, religion, toxic masculinity, and politics converge in a way that seems eerily familiar. It is a place where female youth and beauty are praised in order to please men and make them feel comfortable. If you do not conform you must be punished.

This is a very stylized genre-bending film that explores internal misogyny, and the systems set in place to pit women against each other.The systems were created to control their bodies and actions. Silvera’s influences are clear in this film and she isn’t shy about it. She draws from Kubrick, Lynch, and Argento. From her use of colour to both soothe and creep you out, to her very blatant nod to David Lynch with the close-up of just one eye in the first shot of the film.

It’s not your traditional horror movie. Medusa is a film that feels real while at the same time being faithful to the culture its set in. The mythical aspects of the film converge strongly with the reality-based ones. which builds a dissonance throughout the film. This is the same feeling I get while watching Handmaid’s Tale. That feeling that you know this is a fictional story, but deep down you know that this could happen.

It’s the idea that underneath the perfection is something much more dark. Behind the beautiful girls with makeup and fully glossed lips are the bruises given to them by their boyfriends. The same men that make up the male counterpart of the Treasures called The Watchmen of Zion, a group of Christian paramilitaries that rid the streets of all unholy people by violent means.
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Medusa defies expectations by never giving the audience or its characters time to breathe. Silvera makes it impossible to predict how it will end. As Mari further separates herself from the group, tensions rapidly reach a fever pitch. Mari is not scared or terrified of her oppressors though; she is very angry. The moment comes where the urge to scream is stronger than the powers that bind her and the women of her congregation. Mari awakens a primal anger and power that is incredibly exciting and cathartic to watch.

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