Like a lot of film nerds, my October ritual is to cram in as many new-to-me horror movies as I can before Halloween passes by. Outside of attending film festivals, Spooktober is my favorite time of year to share titles & takes with my online movie buds, but it can be an exhausting, self-defeating effort if you don’t find enough balance in your movie diet. You cannot watch 31 new-to-you slashers or 31 new-to-you zombie comedies without getting sick of the genre. So, that search for balance often sends me to the outer limits of what can comfortably be categorized as horror, which is where you find genre-defiant headscratchers like Medusa. A loose, dreamworld descent into hedonism & blasphemy, Medusa indulges in some Saved!–style Evangelical satire, purgatorial coma ward occultism, hints of Exorcist body possession, and violent street attacks from history’s least-cool girl gang. It only qualifies as horror because that’s the only genre that can accommodate its loopy nightmare logic. Thankfully, that edge-of-horror grey area is where the greatest movies ever made tend to dwell.
The thing holding Medusa back from achieving that greatness isn’t its resistance to categorization; it’s the high bar set by its fellow genre-defiant South American contemporaries like Good Manners, Ema, Bacurau, and Electric Swan. It’s visually striking throughout, relying on some tried-and-true neon lighting & synthpop aesthetic cues to trigger a pithy “Pure Cinema” Letterboxd review or two. There’s just not much that actually happens between its opening & closing bookends, when we meet a misogynistic Christian girl gang in a near-future Brazil and when they’re collectively possessed by the feminist spirit of a wanton woman who’s been wronged by their kind. Like the demonized, sexually liberated woman they fear so much, the movie effectively slips into a coma between those two points, lucidly dreaming about Evangelical vocal choirs, spon-con influencer videos, atheist dance parties, and sex in the jungle. It gradually emerges from that comatose delirium as feminism & hedonism spread through the woman-beating girl gang like an infection, culminating with the girls finally snapping out of it in high-pitched screams to the camera. I was anxious for them to wake up & reorganize the entire runtime, but I guess if I wanted to watch a sharper, more propulsive version of this story I could always just revisit Ema.
Comparisons to other recent South American genre-benders are easy to make here, since that industry has continued to share a post-Buñuel dream-logic approach to narrative structure, each film lightly surreal in its loose progress of events. The slow-motion music video loopiness of Medusa likely shares more in common with Jennifer Reeder’s Knives & Skin than any of its localized contemporaries, though, and it often feels like a bigger-scale, slightly bigger-budget version of that American indie. It just also not any more coherent or streamlined. The runtime crosses the 2-hour barrier for no particular reason other than its dripping-IV momentum never allows for its badass images to flow to the screen with any urgency. Still, the Christian girl gang’s conversion to feminist liberators is a satisfying emersion from that pious, medicated dreamworld. It may not be the most finely tuned example of its kind, but it’s at least one of the few body-possession horrors you’re likely to find that isn’t just another riff on one of the usual suspects: Body Snatchers, The Exorcist, The Thing, etc. If you watch enough horror movies, that kind of novelty is invaluable, especially this time of year.