In her sophomore film 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 guard if you’re unfamiliar with the situation in Brazil. Those who have seen Please kill me will nevertheless be able to follow the raucous and strange mixture of satire and provocation. Yet the bold theme is not matched by an equally tight script. It begins with a close-up of a woman’s eye, then steadily pans out to find her on the floor, contoured as part of a dance. This is an evangelical fatherland meant only to follow the path shown by Jesus, flowing in chastity and holiness. Anyone who dares to be different (especially women) is confronted and shamed.
This act of moral vigilantism is carried out by a group of eight girls headed by Mari (Mari Oliveira): all of them don a strange white mask, hunt women in the night 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. That is their test—to prove themselves worthy of the Lord’s attention, and to trust in the institution of marriage that will soon follow.
Things don’t go smoothly when, on one of these occasions, a girl fights back. She attacks Mari with a broken glass bottle, leaving a gash on her face. As a result, she is fired from her job at the plastic surgery shack. Then there’s Clarrisa (Bruna G) who arrives at their place as if rescued from her life situation. Mari’s cousin Mariana (Mari Oliveira), welcomes her home. We learn that Mariana is obsessed with Melissa García (Bruna Linzmeyer), a celebrity who is rumored to have disappeared long ago after being mutilated for doing a nude scene in one of her movies.
This will lead to Mari’s quest, a journey that will, in strange ways, be an awakening of her own sexual desires. Medusa willfully goes through these characters, introducing one after the other without leaking many details. The version of Christian holiness that reigns over these characters becomes a dizzying metaphor for the new trends of fascism that include moralizing and misogyny. Yet these girls express autonomy in their choices and appease the Lord by following their patriarchal norms. The presence of the creepy priest Guilherme (Thiago Fragoso) is proof of how they are the women who are hunted. It all comes together in a stunning reveal that is better left to be seen.
Infused with a neon undertone of colors that parallel the girls’ plight, Medusa is often bent by her own elements. Uneven in its progression, the film is far too long to hold one’s attention as the characters are half-written. The soundtrack is a mix of old pop covers reimagined to fit the confidence these bunch of girls display. Given that it targets the hypocritical nature of religious morality, the idea feels lost somewhere in all the loud style and execution. Oliveira’s constant breaking of the fourth wall becomes unnecessary and tiresome. Add to that the dynamic between Mari and Michele, so important to the reveal, 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 disturbance and consequent sin in the name of God?
These questions keep the action moving in Medusa, who remains pregnant with promises but falters in bringing them to life. The satire occasionally bites, aided by the finely tuned performances from the cast, but mostly rolls 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 in the attempt alone that the markers are never really established. The problem is how each character is exaggerated to the point where there is no scope for belief and trust. The actions feel staged, not surprising. Eventually, Medusa feels bent by her own elements and struggles to free herself.