The story of Medusa the Gorgon is fairly well known. She was one of three sisters and her tale ends with a slash of the hero Perseus’s sword across her neck. He was sent to slay her and was rewarded with Pegasus erupting from her body. Perseus would use her severed head to turn his enemies to stone by placing their gaze upon her face, doing to them what Medusa did to others when she was alive. He the hero, she the monster, and all of the stories would caste them both as such. But that’s not the full story. Medusa wasn’t a monster born with snakes for hair and the ability to turn those who looked upon her to stone, she was cursed by Athena, the goddess for whom Medusa was a temple maiden, after the god Poseidon forced himself upon her in Athena’s, the Virgin Goddess, temple. This was a punishment for an act that was not of her choosing and yet she bore it. For generations since, the story of the girl who was a monster, slayed for the belief that she was unworthy of life because she was “unpure,” all being of a man’s failure to control himself. Strange, isn’t it, that this same story repeats itself in communities and cultures around the world, especially where people of faith reside in which the system uplifts men and punishes women. Inspired by Medusa’s story, as well as by several real-world instances, writer/director Anita Rocha da Silveira (Mate-me Por Favor (Kill Me Please)) created the genre-hybrid Medusa, a neon-drenched noir that borrows as much from Italian Giallo in its visual and auditory elements as it does coming-of-age dramas and interpersonal comedies. By all accounts, Medusa should be a tonal mess, yet it compels its audience to lean in, listen, and contemplate the seething rage that permeates its every frame.
Mariana (Mari Oliverira) is best friends with Michele (Lara Tremoroux), both of whom are members of their church’s all-women singing group Treasures of the Lord. When the duo aren’t together working on Michele’s social media channel or studying the tragic story of Melissa (Bruna Linzmeyer) or watching the boys in the neighborhood protectors group (dubbed Watchmen) reciting their mantras as they practice, they are with the rest of the Treasures as they try to exalt the virtues of being godly women. That is, until night falls and they each don a white mask, roaming the streets looking for women to abuse and attempt to convert. When one such night out turns bad for Mariana, it begins a chain-reaction of events that shatters her perceptions of the community she’s put everything into belonging.
Though initial reviews of a project tend to be spoiler-free, this home release review dips its toe into some aspects in order to better identify and explore the various themes of the film.
There isn’t a single subtle part of Medusa and it’s all the better for it. It’s not that da Silveira lacks finesse, it’s that her approach to Medusa is so layered, it’s absolutely thick with metaphor and meaning and it’s bursting to get out. Her film is an exploration of the patriarchal systems in place, the women who support them despite the dangerous situations it places them in, the weaponization of faith as a method of control, and the miraculousness of freedom once someone is excommunicated from that system. Shortly after the audience watches a beating take place and the girl group unmasks themselves, we learn the origin of the mask: it was worn by an unknown individual when they set the face of a girl, the aforementioned Melissa, ablaze as they believed her to be promiscuous and ungodly. Mariana and Michele know this story by heart and are drawn to it. Only after Mariana is injured and starts to see the impact of what it means to be cast aside due to physical disfigurement does she start to realize that perhaps the evil one in the story isn’t Melissa but the person who set her ablaze. Perception of the story comes down to the audience, but it’s through Mariana’s tale that both she and the audience begin to consider who the storyteller is and what their impact is on the message of the story itself. What light does it cast Melissa in at the start versus at the end? In that same vein, as Mariana finds herself shifting from the thing that hunts others in the night to becoming the thing that may get hunted, da Silveira shifts from simply showing artistic works on walls that evoke the infamous Gorgon and her snakes, as well as a persistent green (itself evoking something natural and also reminiscent of the look/feel of algae as it grows on old stone statues), to having the audience look at how Mariana and Michele present themselves outwardly and what that represents internally.
If there’s a scene that hammers home da Silveira’s perspective on the patriarchal grip placed upon women, it’s a long take in which Michele removes makeup after Mariana storms off. Many times throughout the film da Silveira integrates video so seamlessly that we, the audience, don’t know if we’re watching something as it happens or something that’s been recorded and the characters are watching. It’s an interesting way to create uncertainty regarding whether what we see is real, as well as a fascinating approach to prod the audience into thinking about who the people are in front of the camera as well as through editing before uploading (perhaps to get us to think about the difference between public and private-facing beliefs and the schism created between the two when they clash). Going back to the scene, based on previous moments, it’s difficult to tell if we’re watching the finished video or something they’re shooting, but, in either case, the camera never moves and we are forced to bear witness to a harsh truth that Michele is unable to speak as part of the fold and Mariana cannot hear as she is leaving the fold. (This reviewer couldn’t help but think of writer/director Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, adapted from Miriam Toews’s 2018 novel, and anyone who enjoys Medusa should seek it out, though its exploration of faith and the patriarchy are differently executed.) What Michele does is simple and every day; it’s undeniably ordinary. Yet, with the camera held firm, focused in a tight mid-shot, her shoulders and face prominently in front of us, Michele herself staring directly at the lens as if daring us to look away, she takes off her makeup. In this moment, we see who Michele is, the real her away from the Treasures, away from her faith, away from Mariana. In its execution, da Silveira places the audience in the untenable position of silent witness; one of many times throughout the film in which the audience is being pushed to examine themselves as much as the characters.
Regarding the home release itself, Music Box Films does tend to offer bonus features which expand on the viewing experience, and this is no different. For those who enjoyed Medusa in its July theatrical release in the U.S., the home release comes with more than 70 minutes of . You can either watch “Screams of Liberation,” a featurette of 27+ minutes in which da Silveira speaks on the inspiration for the film, the casting, the look, and more; a Q&A with da Silveira and film journalist and critic Jourdain Searles at the New York Premiere which covers some of the same ground; a video essay running nine-plus minutes from an unidentified source that delves deeply into the ideas of Medusa; nine-plus minutes of deleted scenes without sound mixing or color treatment; and the theatrical trailer.
In the featurette “Screams of Liberation,” Anita Rocha da Silveira mentions how life is a complex mixture of genres, so why shouldn’t film reflect that. She’s not wrong. On the day of this writing, my day has been a horror show, a comedy, a medical crisis, and a family drama; each one smoothly transitioning into the next. da Silveira’s Medusa does this, as well, with incredible ease, so much so that one might mistake lack of drama or event as the absence of action (again, just like life). Her film is challenging, setting up expectations and flooring them over and again until the Medusa ends in the only way it can: in a scream of primal rage, a scream that’s been building since Eve, passed down from one generation of women to another, each time begging for release despite being caught in a terrible cycle of physical and emotional violence that’s built to uplift men and demolish women.
Medusa Special Features:
- “Screams of Liberation”: Interview Featurette (27:38)
- Director Q&A from New York Premiere with film journalist and critic Jourdain Searles (24:53)
- “The Laugh of Medusa” Video Essay (11:20)
- Deleted Scenes (9:25)
- Theatrical Trailer
Available on digital September 27th, 2022.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD December 13th, 2022.
For more information, head to Music Box Films’s official Medusa webpage.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.
Categories: Films To Watch, Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews, streaming
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