What’s scary about Anita Rocha da Silveira’s second feature are neither its monstrous metaphors for the Evangelical extremism on the rise in her native Brazil, nor its Argento-esque aesthetic of hallucinogenic hues and contrast colors. It’s how the ignorant ideology which the sprawling story overtly criticizes asserts itself in the subtext of this supposedly feminist fairytale. Like many fairytales, it evolves around a haughty heroine humbled by losing her beauty and being thrown off her privileged pedestal. Exclusion by her previous peers and lowly work reform her character so when she regains her physical charms they are matched by spiritual perfection.
Despite openly parodying duplicitous definitions of physical attractiveness, the director writer relies on archaic concepts of beauty, disfigurement and ugliness. Young conventionally beautiful protagonist Mari (Mariana Oliveira) and her girl gang of radical Evangelicals pursue an immaculate appearance as one of women’s prime duties to Jesus and men but condemn the attractiveness of „sinful“ young women. At night Mari and the others hunt for „Jezebels“ and „Messalinas“ – epithets evoking the age-old history of slut-shaming women – beating them into renouncing their „depraved“ lifestyle to embrace religious piety. The forced confessions and conversions are instantly posted online where they draw likes and supportive comments.
The white masks worn by the young zealots during their prowls point towards their everyday masks consisting of perfect modest make-up and virtuous fashion. At the same time they evoke Georges Franju’s creepy classic Eyes Without a Face which centers a disfigured girl who is less a monster than a victim. The same goes for the gangs apocryphal first target Melissa (Bruna Linzmeyer), an actor who had her face horribly burned. After a failed attack leaves Mari with a facial scar – though rather small and non-permanent – that gets her fired, she starts to look for Melissa, slowly becoming receptive to the error of her ways.
Mari’s reformation is not only problematical because it’s psychologically implausible and hardly atones her past actions. By framing violence and blemished beauty as initiating mental realignment – a process later repeated on her friend Michele (Lara Tremouroux) – the story reaffirms the brutal methods of the Evangelical girl gang. The narrative applies the Christian concept of suffering as transformative test and disfigurement – feared and fetishized – as higher punishment. Melissa serves merely as twofold tool: first for scares, then for absolving an aggressive participant in the system that destroyed her. Equally problematic are the issues da Silveira’s pop-culture conscious horror thriller leaves out despite its length.
While it is made obvious how a chauvinist cult like the church the girls belong to appeals to straight cis-men, there is no hint of what it might offer other persons. The plot profoundly lacks insight into the complex dynamics drawing its characters into a masochistically misogynistic institution of self-abnegating submission. Only when one of Mari’s friends groups in the „sex addicts“ and „perverts“ she fears to be everywhere with „communists“, there is a faint hint of philistine furor as part of a larger political picture rightwing radicalization. But at these crucial aspects of her topic da Silveira doesn’t dare to look.
- OT: Medusa
- Director: Anita Rocha da Silveira
- Screenplay: Anita Rocha da Silveira
- Country: Brasilia
- Year: 2021
- Running Time: 127 min.
- Cast: Bruna Linzmeyer, Thiago Fragoso, Felipe Frazão, Joana Medeiros, Lara Tremouroux, Mariana Oliveira, Carol Romano, Fernanda Lasevitch, Anita Chaves, Isadora Ruppert, Bruna G., João Oliveira, Gui Heck, Bruno Marques, Arthur Santileone, Natália Balbino, Julianna Pimenta, João Gana
- Release date: 01.12.2022
- Image © Drop-out Cinema