From the hook, viewers will have a gut feeling about Medusa and its saccharine commentary on the fascist intensity of evangelism in contemporary Brazilian society. Whether its incendiary bayoneting of the patriarchy promotes a film so clear and so devoid of nuance that its loudness will be attractive, or the jarring tone and confounding plot will put you off right away is entirely up to the viewer. Chances are, whatever your instinct is from the off, you’ll be right: Brazilian director Anita Rocha Da Silveira doesn’t really care how you feel either way.

A visually rich and at times intense film from Rio-born artist and filmmaker da Silveira, Medusa’s fangs aim at the authoritarian patriarchy of Brazil, and though striking out with passion, it often finds itself flawed with its convoluted narrative. But when it penetrates, Medusa sinks in and becomes engaging, fascinating, and downright peculiar.

Spliced with musical numbers from the members of an evangelical Christian young woman’s choir called Michele and the Treasures, the film initially centres around a group of young women who remain under the vigilance of their church’s politically ambitious preacher and the church’s squad of street vigilante men, whom they are expected to marry.

But come evening, the abuse they face erupts as the women don white masks and express themselves through chasing, beating, and humiliating lone women they judge to be ‘sinful’ or ‘promiscuous’ and forcing them to ‘accept Jesus’. But after one victim fights back, one of the women, Mariana (Mari Oliveira), is scarred physically and mentally. Cast aside from her work due to her now imperfect face and losing her place within the world, Mariana searches for a new purpose and looks to the coma ward of a clinic where she picks up shifts as a nurse. Here the awakening of herself, her sexuality, and her mind all stew together in disorientating, visually striking ways.

In a perverse take on the mythical gorgon from which the film takes its title, to look away is the punishment and to look this provocative and formidable feminist fury in the eye will lead to salvation, temptation, but one heaping load of confusion. If the script contained itself to this initial premise and built upon it, Medusa would be reaching incredibly artistic and ballsy territory. But just as it finds a firm footing to stabilise the imagery and commentary, it just keeps going. The narrative warps, and tonally da Silveira is so flooded with ideas, concepts and visuals that the plot structure crumbles in the latter half of the film. Now, this hospital is more than just a building – a symbolic place with twists and tricks laying behind the doors and corridors as a more horror-focused element emerges. It’s all just a touch too much to hold the film together, and it’s here where the neon and colour begin to leak out and rupture.

The monstrous women at the heart of this pulsating mass of bubblegum pinks and lurid neon all deliver superb performances for their roles, though principal star Mari Oliveira is a far cannier thriller and dramatic performer than with horror, not entirely able to keep up with the ramped-up tension and violent elements in its more extreme moments. Though Oliveira does remarkable work with the psychological nature of the film, their on-screen chemistry with poster-child and leader of the Treasures Lara Tremouroux is a nice juxtaposition of those who stay in the palm of the patriarchy, and those who recognise the harm it causes.

Da Silveira works with designer Dina Salem Levy to generate an intensely eye-catching (and occasionally eye-popping) film, which slathers itself in pastels, steadily dripping itself into heavier tones of green and purple. In multiple ways, Medusa is fascinating. And while it may lack a certain refinement, each component builds upon the other, sometimes toppling, sometimes slotting into place magnificently, that it becomes an intense piece which challenges religious hypocrisy and sexism, and offers a stylised view for displaced young people with solid performances and earned anger.  

Available to stream now