TIFF Review: 'Medusa' Sets Its Gaze Upon Modern Standards of Perfection Directed by Anita Rocha da Silveira

Starring Mari Oliveira, Lara Tremouroux, Joana Medeiros, Felipe Frazão, Thiago Fragoso, Bruna G, Bruna Linzmeyer
TIFF Review: 'Medusa' Sets Its Gaze Upon Modern Standards of Perfection Directed by Anita Rocha da Silveira
We all know the name Medusa: a being of Greek mythology with venomous snakes in place of hair and whose gaze turns men to stone. Some scholars believe she was born with this appearance and power, while others say she was once a beautiful maiden who was changed into a monster by Athena as punishment for desecrating her temple after being assaulted by Poseidon. But who really is the monster? That's a question pondered in writer-director Anita Rocha da Silveira's latest film, one where the Medusas and Athenas of the world are in constant battle.

The opening credits of Medusa play over the image of a group of masked women walking side-by-side to the song "Cities in Dust" by Siouxsie and the Banshees. These girls believe that the path they are walking on is the righteous one, and if someone crosses their path that has been deceived by the serpent, they must punish them. They act as religious vigilantes, beating up and attempting to convert everyone they believe is Satan's children.

Michele and the Treasures of the Lord are devoted and virtuous, a Christian girl group performing on a neon-lit temple stage for their fellow worshippers. One of the girls in the group is Mariana (Mari Oliveira). One night during one of their many attacks, she is cut in the face. Now bearing a huge scar, she is no longer the image of perfection she and her group strive to maintain, and she now feels the ugliness that she has projected onto others. She becomes obsessed with an actress named Melissa (Bruna Linzmeyer) and haunted by the attack she suffered. She begins to work at a care facility where she believes Melissa has been in a coma. It's the least Christian environment she's ever been in, and she finds freedom there. No longer walking alongside the group, but on her own.

Medusa is a sometimes trippy, psychedelic fusion of colour that brings to mind Giallo thrillers. It's a film that examines the pressure of living up to the views of others or the pressure of meeting today's standards of perfection. Makeup may cover imperfections, but they'll still be there when it's removed, and the cast of Medusa effectively shows how these pressures become so overwhelming and suffocatingly difficult to deal with that all you can and want to do is scream — and it's a powerful scream of rebellion.

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9 to 18. Get info about in-person and online screenings at the festival website. (Bananeira Filmes)