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MEDUSA (2021) review

August 24, 2022


written by: Anita Rocha da Silveira
produced by: Fernanda Thurann
directed by: Anita Rocha da Silveira
rated: not rated
runtime: 122 min.
U.S. release date: August 12, 2022 (theatrical)


In writer/director Anita Rocha da Silveira’s second feature, “Medusa”, Brazilian women are physically beaten until they pledge their life to Jesus Christ and commit to becoming devoted and virtuous women, submitting themselves to the Lord. So much for free will. Thankfully, this isn’t a documentary, but da Silveira is drawing upon some unnerving real life events from Brazil and there are definitely themes and issues in “Medusa” that feel all too prescient.

As the film opens, eight teenage girls are hounding a lone young woman as she walks an empty street late at night in a nondescript city in Brazil. These girls wear white plastic masks with hauntingly blank expressions, while shouting, “Slut!” and “Whore!”, as they close in on this one woman they proclaim her as “promiscuous” and corner her until she is on the ground where they can beat her into admitting her sinful ways and then record the wounded woman confessing and committing her life to Christ. That footage eventually is uploaded online with the girls eagerly awaiting how many views it has received.



By day, these teen girls are part of an evangelical religious sect that promotes purity and perfection, albeit in a very eerie and uncomfortable manner. The girls focus on maintaining an unblemished outward appearance and are very accountable to each other pertaining to who they hang out with (especially boys) or what they do with their time. They are led by Michele (Lara Tremouroux), who can often be seen in front of the congregation (largely unseen, but assumedly broadcast) leading the girls through a choreographed song-and-dance routine on a neon purple-pink lit stage, supposedly designed to uplift viewers and give praise to the Lord, while subtlety indicating purity leads to superiority. Known as “Michele and the Treasures of the Lord” (since these specific girls are considered “Treasures”), their songs come across moreso as political propaganda as the film unfolds, rather than motivations to “come to Jesus”.

Meanwhile, the teen boys of this cult collectively go by the name Watchmen of Sion, and can often be seen practicing a form of militaristic tai chi. Apart from this ritual, they can be seen lined up along a balcony above the stage where the aforementioned preacher, Pastor Guilherme (Thiago Fragoso), spouts his sermons. They also encounter people on the street at night, primarily other men, but never to the vigilante extremes employed by the girls. That being said, “Medusa” isn’t out to examine the behavioral differences between the teenage boys and girls at this religious institution. da Silveira is solely set on presenting how the girls, specifically how the Treasures behave and treat with each other, while the awkward interaction between the opposite sex serve as a running subplot where the males are provided with more agency and less pressure.

“Medusa” is mostly concerned with following Mariana “Mari” da Silviera (Mari Oliveira), closest friend to Michelle and loyal member of the Treasures. In the film’s first act, we see her gravitate toward a new recruit, a shy young girl who was literally dropped off at the boardinghouse where these seemingly orphan girls reside. Mari takes the new girl under her wing and teaches her the ways of the Treasure girls, where a pristine outward appearance is crucial and naturally curly hair must be straightened and perfectly styled. With this girl’s introduction, it would seem that da Silveira will be focusing on how she will be ingratiated into this exclusive network of purity culture. But soon enough (and maybe appropriately enough), the new girl blends into the Treasures, becoming brainwashed internally and an outward appearance that matches perfectly with all the other girls.



It soon becomes clear that the focus of “Medusa” is the character of Mari, who’s world is totally changed one night after her face is physically scarred when a would-be victim of the masked Treasures fights back. She is crushed when she is fired from the Christian beauty and plastic surgery clinic where she works as an assistant. On the day after an altercation with a potential target, she is told by her handsome boss, “in this business, looks are everything”, and that his mission is to make people feel beautiful, while surrounded by beauty and youth. With a scar on her right cheek from the previous night that required stitches, Mariana is told she will frighten the patients. Mariana pleads, stating she will clean her wound, stating she was mugged. He adds that a “worthy” woman wouldn’t have been walking the streets at night.

Distraught by her appearance, Mari’s friend Michelle assures her that it’s not that bad and she will pray her “ugliness” away. This reinforces the superficiality of the friendships that we see between the girls and Michele quickly goes into default mode, focusing on herself and creating content for her YouTube channel “The Call of Michele”, where she instructs viewers on important matters, such as “How to Take a Perfect Christian Selfie”. Pro tip: keep it at arms length and hide the double chin. She also points out which filters are ideal, pointing out that one is better than another because it’s not as “carnal”.

Meanwhile, Mari slowly finds herself socially separated from the rest of the Treasures, inevitably causing an unfortunate rift between her and Michele. Since the focus of these girls has always been to maintain a beautiful appearance in order to make themselves available for a future Christian husband, Mari does her best to hide her scar by draping her long dark hair over that side of her face. She soon becomes obsessed with an urban legend from the fundamentalist cult, regarding a former Treasures girl named Melissa Garcia (Bruna Linazmeyer), who was rumored as “the most promiscuous girl that ever lived” in their town, labeled a homewrecker. The story that has been passed on for years is that Melissa was visited by a woman dressed like an angel, wearing a white mask that lit her face on fire.



Melissa was never to be found again and wound up becoming something of an enigma, yet it is believed that she is still alive somewhere. It is from this rumor that Mari takes a job as a nurse in a private hospital that specifically treats comatose patients, believing that Melissa may be a patient there and hoping that getting a current photo of her would get her back in the good graces of the Treasures. What this new job does is unexpectedly provide an eye-opening experience of the outside world for Mari. Away from the all-consuming influence of the other girls, she is now surrounding with quirky co-workers and a kind co-worker named Lucas (Felipe Frazão), who also works as a nurse. The two gradually develop an attraction for each other, something that would’ve been forbidden for Mira, but she now begins to allow primarily because her worldview has broadened.

da Silveira is essentially providing a needed coming-of-age story for Mari in this neon-tinged journey that borders on fantasy. Having spent so much of “Medusa” establishing the damaging group-think of the girls (and boys, for that matter) of this dangerous religious cult and how they obsess over the perceived roles of women, the writer/director offers a rewarding character arc that is a showcase for Oliveira, an actress who delivers an absorbing performance as she delves into the complexities of Mari’s personality and transformation.

While the themes and messages of “Medusa” get a little heavy-handled and offer somewhat simplified answers to concerning religious and psychological issues, it’s nevertheless a provocative film that maintains a viewer’s curiosity throughout. Whether or not such a pernicious cult exists anywhere in Brazil isn’t important, but rather that it could. Considering how any religion can be twisted and manipulated far beyond its original intent, there are indeed certain truths in “Medusa” that feel eerily prescient.



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