Review by Sean Boelman
Anita Rocha da Silveira’s Medusa is one of those daring festival discoveries that will divide audiences that see it. Benefitting from a strong directorial vision and some exceptional commentary, this is a fascinating genre film that signals da Silveira as someone to keep an eye on in the future.
The movie follows a young woman who, along with her friends, goes out on the streets at night to punish “sinners” who do not hold up their ideal of the perfect woman. It’s a coming-of-age film under the guise of a surreal thriller, but da Silveira does a wonderful job of developing both sides of the story.
What makes da Silveira’s movie so effective is the way in which she is able to lull viewers into this world. It’s a film that exists in a reality that feels slightly alternate to the one in which we live, although somehow it still reflects the real world in the scariest of ways. With this, the viewer will feel totally immersed for the entirety of the two hour runtime.
There is a very pronounced visual style to the movie that feels very established given that this is only da Silveira’s sophomore feature. The use of color is absolutely brilliant and goes a long way in building the uncanny atmosphere on which the film is so dependent. And the way in which the more violent scenes are shot is absolutely breathtaking.
Obviously, the movie is very heavily topical in the way in which it addresses misogyny and the patriarchy. The film’s commentary on how society holds women to a double standard isn’t something that should have to be said, but it does anyway, and da Silveira does an excellent job of it. The commentary on religion isn’t quite as developed, but it’s still thought-provoking as well.
The character development in the movie is absolutely fascinating. Although the protagonist’s arc of breaking free from the bounds of a society that treats her poorly isn’t the most original, it is still very compelling. And there are plenty of memorable supporting characters, from her friends to the leaders of the community.
Mari Oliveira’s performance in the leading role is quite strong. It’s fittingly mysterious in how it presents her, more emotional depth being added to her performance as the character changes over the course of the film. And in the supporting cast, there are some gloriously hammy players that fit right in.
There are a lot of things that are impressive about Medusa, but perhaps the best thing about it is how unabashedly confident it is. Some viewers may be off-put even though this is one of the most exciting genre movies so far this year.
Medusa screened at the Cannes Film Festival, which ran from July 7-17.