A gaggle of ladies in creepy, featureless white masks shouts “Jezebel! Slut! Sinner! Satan’s Child! Delilah!” as they chase a younger lady strolling dwelling on a darkish evening. As soon as they meet up with her, they kick her they usually beat her till she admits she deserves punishment. Lastly, they ask her to “promise to accept Jesus into her heart and become a devoted, virtuous woman, submissive to the Lord,” filming her confession with a cellphone. This visceral scene of moral rigidity opens Anita Rocha da Silveira’s mesmerizing sophomore movie “Medusa.”
Impressed by the rise of radical evangelical Christian factions and women-on-women violence in her native Brazil, director da Silveira and co-writer Érica Sarmet craft a movie that oscillates between satire and out-and-out horror as she analyzes the world of those so-called pious, but really brutal girls. As pointed in its criticism of the Christian Proper as Beth de Araujo’s 2022 SXSW breakout “Soft & Quiet,” what separates da Silveira’s movie is its curiosity within the constructions that start these sorts of ladies, not simply the brutality of their actions.
“Medusa” follows two lifelong pals, Mari (Mariana Oliveira) and Michele (Lara Tremouroux), whose church vocal group, Michele and the Treasures of the Lord, sing political propaganda and love songs to the Lord within the fashion of ’60s-style women teams whereas awash in purple-pink neon. In addition, they moonlight as vigilantes who roam the streets in the evening beating up girls they deem sinful. In the meantime, the organized military run by the younger males of the church, Watchmen of Sion, appear to spend all their time doing choreographed workout routines taken from Claire Denis’ “Beau Travail.”
These girls have been raised in this church-sponsored purity tradition, the place’s outward magnificence supposedly correlates with inward advantage. Mari slicks again her naturally curly hair and stifles any trace of ardor behind a passive smile, whereas Michele hides her relationship traumas behind an ideal face of make-up. From this hyper-focused pursuit of purity and perfection, the pink-clad Michele runs a spiritual YouTube channel from her bubble gum pink bedroom aimed toward grooming virtuous girls via tutorials and life hack suggestions. Do you know a selfie from under is Hell’s Gaze and above tries to imitate God’s gaze? All the time snap a pic straight on! Mari works at a creepy cosmetic surgery middle the place all of the sufferers, and even the physician, seem like they fell out of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.”
The vigilante group traces its origins to the parable of a lady named Melissa, who was probably the most promiscuous woman ever to reside in their city—extra sinful than Lot’s daughters. Though she was lovely, she was a homewrecker. Someday a lady dressed like an angel sporting a white mask lit her face on the fireplace and it’s from this cleaning fireplace the younger girls discover their mission. The Christian church has a protracted historical past of utilizing fireplaces to purify the bodies of the residing to organize their souls for the hereafter. Right here da Silveira finds the horrific echoes of colonialism, from its pressured conversion of indigenous peoples to its burning of their land, painfully reverberating ever nonetheless.
When one in every one of these purifying assaults goes awry, leaving Mari visibly scarred, she loses her cosmetic surgery job and decides to seek Melissa, whom she believes remains to be alive in a coma ward. Whereas on this search she meets a brand new set of individuals, whose perspective and way of life trigger her to reevaluate all the things she’s held to be true. This in fact causes a rift with Michele. It’s in the way in which da Silveira handles this rift that we see the power of her empathy. If girls have been conditioned by the patriarchy to regulate one another, it’s solely girls who can even save one another.
As the 2 starts to seek out freedom inside themselves and the power to push again in opposition to the abusive males who run the church, different girls within the vocal group step into the facility they’ve relinquished. After observing Melissa defy her boyfriends, one such lady whispers to Mair: “Michele, Mariana, Melissa … I once read that girls’ names that start with the letter ‘M’ are names of malicious women … Mary Magdalene … Messalina … Monsters.”
Da Silveira’s movie seeks to dismantle this very idea of the monstrous lady, and particularly how girls themselves uphold it. In Greek mythology, when Medusa broke her vow of celibacy, the goddess Athena turned her hair to snakes and made her lovely face so hideous that every one those that gazed at it turned to stone. Medusa isn’t a villain, she’s a sufferer. She dared embrace her sexual freedom and was condemned for it.
Mari and Michele could not come to see the facility inherent within the freedom girls as Medusa sought, and even their very own culpability in perpetuating their very own subjugation, however they a minimum of seeing the cage inside which they’ve been raised. They permit themselves to lastly really feel its suffocating results. This realization comes with one among the finest cinematic makes use of a primal scream as these two girls, and all those around them, embrace the catharsis of searching for true deliverance.
Though its many cinematic influences—from Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” to David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”—are obvious, da Silveira wields them to inform a narrative distinctly her personal. Eliciting highly effective performances from her two leads and putting visuals from cinematographer João Atala, “Medusa” casts its gaze on the hypocritical and violent world of purity tradition with an unflinching honesty that may depart the viewers spellbound lengthy after the credit roll.