Medusa is quite possibly one of the strangest horror films I have ever watched, and I have seen a hell of a lot of them. It tries to follow in the footsteps of Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, the nearest movie tonally, but it does not come close to nailing the right level of both drama and horror necessary to pull it off. It is thought-provoking feminist horror, fueled by music, religion, and materialism. On the opposite side of the coin, Medusa just has too much going on, converging in a convoluted mish-mash of ideas that rarely works.
Mariana (Mariana Oliveira) and her newfound gaggle of female friends are obsessed with righting the evils and corruptions in the world. Their solution? Chase people down in the streets (calling them colorful names like “slut” and bitch”) and beat them senseless. Force them to accept Jesus into their life, attend cult-like preacher prayer sessions, and declare themselves pure… all is on the table. When they catch wind of a female celebrity who has gone into hiding, Mariana gets a mission: infiltrate the alleged clinic in which she is living and publicly shame this woman for not being pious. She initially works at a plastic surgeon’s office, until she is scarred when one of the group’s victims fights back. She is immediately fired for frightening the patients, and must look elsewhere for a new career.
In her time at the clinic, Mariana becomes deeply ensnared in a possible romantic relationship, and patients, like a comatose, gay hate crime victim, cause her to question her faith. The facility is poorly funded, in a state of disrepair after an abandoned, decade-long renovation. She has to change adult diapers and helps patients by moisturizing their chafed bodies. Mariana misses home, staying with her aunt and attending a fancy school, but she is convinced that she has fresh opportunities, and her parents know what is best. Mariana is the only character in the movie with any depth.
The scarred celebrity bears little relevance to the film at large, which is a collection of random songs made foreign and religious, like a rendition of “House of the Rising Sun”, and a depiction of a creepy devout cult committed to maintaining a world order. The celebrity subplot comes secondary to the rest, putting the focus in the most boring spots instead of on the strengths. A makeup application tutorial ends in tears, and the various faith speeches get old fast.
Still, some of this worked for me. The synthy score and music element is captivating and surreal amidst the strange and unusual. The last ten minutes or so brings things back around, trying to make sense of the meandering storyline. Medusa is one seriously oddball horror yarn that is only for the extremely devoted horror fanatics, or those obsessed with pretentious arthouse movies, who enjoy the phrase “elevated horror.”
Medusa screened at Directors’ Fortnight the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.