Women walking at night wearing masks

By day, young women show religious devotion through purity and perfection. By night, they form a vigilante girl gang, roving the streets of Brazil to punish sinners. When an attack goes wrong, Mari (Mariana Oliveira) is forced to confront her inner demons.

Mari and her friends broadcast their spiritual devotion through pastel pinks and catchy evangelical songs about purity and perfection, but underneath it all they harbor a deep rage. By day they hide behind their manicured facade, and by night they form a masked, vigilante girl gang, prowling the streets in search of sinners who've deviated from the rightful path. After an attack goes wrong, leaving Mari scarred and unemployed, her view of community, religion, and her peers begin to shift. Nightmares of repressed desires and haunting visions of alluring temptation become undeniable and the urge to scream and release her paralyzing inner demons is more powerful than ever before. A neon-tinged genre-bender that gives provocative form to the overwhelming feminine fury coursing through modern life.

Due to systemic machismo and colonialism, having a standard body and always looking made-up is what's expected of the girls; it's an essential part of being accepted into that universe. And it also involves straightening their hairs and always wearing makeup, but toned-down. At the beginning of the movie, Mariana is working in a beauty clinic, a place where Western normative beauty standards are even more exaggerated. And her transformation will begin precisely thought the way she looks. However, the way we see it, the cult of the perfect body and certain beauty standards is first and foremost related to a form of control. Since these young people are expected to control their desire, the exercise of control starts through their own bodies and extends to the bodies of others.

In 2015, pictures and videos of a young paramilitary group surfaced the Internet. They were young men in uniforms saluting in front of an altar, screaming command words, saying they're prepared for the Lord’s battle, they called themselves the Gladiators. Over the last few years, we've witnessed a significant growth of the Evangelical bench in the Brazilian Congress, as well as the birth of new influencers; young YouTubers who are charismatic and use the Internet to defend an ultraconservative lifestyle, such as a young journalist whose motto was 'I Fight the End of Feminism.' We've also gone through the 2018 general elections, which were tarnished by hatred and misinformation, mostly spread out through WhatsApp groups. Part of the population was appalled to see fake news involving alleged penis-shaped baby bottles and gay kits, supposedly distributed by leftists to indoctrinate small kids into a gay lifestyle.

Just like in the Q-Anon theory, it’s all about protecting the children. But from whom? However, what really prompted is seeing part of Brazilian society advocating the return of the demure female, one who's devoted to her man, as well as several reports in the news about violent attacks on teenage girls, carried out by other girls that attack in a group, in most cases because they regard the victim as promiscuous. Sometimes the victims’ hair is cut off, and the face slashed, which is essential to make the victims look ugly. The reason claimed for such violent acts ranged from believing the victims are too beautiful, to them hitting on a boyfriend of one of the attackers, to showing off with provocative clothes, getting too many Likes on their Instagram pictures, or being perceived as easy or slutty, all in a world where social networks have become the primary surveillance tool. Violence among women, often used as a form of control, is constantly reiterated in our society, and it remains, to this day, a topic that we do not talk much about, as it challenges us to think about how the engines of machismo also operate inside us.

In the most know version of the myth, Medusa is described as a beautiful maiden, a priestess of the temple of Athena. But one day she gave in to Poseidon’s advances, angering Athena, the virgin goddess, who transformed Medusa’s beautiful hair into snakes, and left her face so horrendous that those merely gazing into it would be turned to stone. Medusa was punished for her sexuality, for desiring, for not being pure. By combining myth and reality, it occurred that, even with the passing of the centuries, women wanting to control each other became part of the very foundation of this civilization. And perhaps, it's a way of us to keep control of ourselves. After all, we're raised fearful of giving into our impulses or being labeled as hysterical. Such control also involves appearance and beauty, for we're impregnated with the idea that it's the primary female attribute. We go on diets to achieve a certain weight and undergo painful aesthetic procedures in the hope to remain young forever. When distancing herself from what's expected as standard behavior, Mariana will find her way to a special encounter. And this experience, instead of turning her body into stone, will awaken new sensations and desires. One of the striking elements is that families and parents are totally absent in the film; and even more in the faith and the transmission of religious believes.

Brazil is a very plural, diverse country, so we cannot make any generalizing comments on the youth. But the evangelical churches play a certain role and look after these kids in areas where other churches and the state have failed to do so. Besides providing a place of worship, evangelical churches offer classes, courses, support groups for the youth, for women, the elderly, and so on. So, when people find themselves estranged from their families, feeling lonely, sometimes in a new city, a church can become this place of support and bonding. The film criticizes religious manifestations, but rather to call attention to certain groups who make peculiar interpretations of the biblical texts and contribute to the construction of intolerant, sexist, homophobic environments that are tainted by hatred. Today, it can be easy to take on a doctrine and use it as you may see fit. No wonder we've witnessed, over the last few decades, a plethora of temples and churches from several Christian faiths, with discourses and dogmas that can very immensely.

It's some kind of allegory of what is currently Brazil. Throughout the centuries, the symbols associated with the image of Medusa were transformed and reinterpreted. In the 20th century, it became a symbol for the feminist movement and even an inspiration for brand logos like Versace’s. Her face, which was previously seen as a symbol of evil, as something obscure, began to represent the rage restrained in women. A rage that society tries to silence in many ways, but when this rage gets pushed to the limit, it can spread into several snakes, it can be transformed into something powerful. That's the starting point for the face of Medusa as a catalyst for change. Her image propagated over the centuries through the arts, like in Caravaggio’s Medusa, and still so present in our imaginary, is associated with the rage that all women keep inside, as the result of centuries of oppression. And this rage, when exposed, can be contagious. The scream, and the contorted face while shouting, is a symbol of that fury as it confronts the world and finds support in other women.

The film is influenced by "Suspiria" (1977) and "La Sindrome di Stendhal" (1996), for the incredible aesthetics and commitment to a horror genre that's done in a way that's light-hearted, filled small transgressions. Both The Treasures and the Sion Watchmen cultivate high body standards, that seems like a very important part of their culture. "Medusa" dares us not to look away. In spite of its very pop aesthetics, its atmosphere feels like a dark utopia.


"Medusa" opens Fri, Aug 19 at Gateway Film Center