Brazilian feature Medusa (2021) is destined to be a divisive film — not in the “love it or hate it” manner, but rather in such ways as expectations about how much horror it contains, considering that it is playing several fright-fare festivals around the world; how much viewers relate to — or perhaps squirm against — its satirical barbs; and, perhaps to a lesser degree, how much knowledge about the current Brazilian political and social climate viewers come in with when watching the film. After all, considering that last point, parallels with many countries around the world can be drawn at this time. Mari (Mari Oliveira) is part of a group of young ladies who sing in a church choir by day and take part in masked assaults on women they consider promiscuous by night. She and group leader Michelle (Lara Tremouroux) — who hosts a video blog about Christian beauty tips — are best friends until Mari is facially scarred by one of their potential victims. Mari then loses her job at a plastic surgery clinic and standing with her friends. She takes part in a scheme to photograph a former starlet who was burned in the face by a mysterious “angel” figure who the choir girls revere. Writer/director Anita Rocha da Silveira gives viewers plenty to chew on, from religious fanaticism to feminist motifs to other types of social commentary. It’s a lot to unpack, but da Silveira wraps everything in a colorful, dizzying display complete with dark humor and musical numbers. Although Medusa does contain horror elements, it is strictly in the horror-adjacent category. Genre-film fans of the offbeat and arthouse cinema should find this one to be quite a trip.
Cross the Line (No Matarás)
Directed by David Victori
★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Prepare for edge-of-your-seat tension with gripping Spanish thriller Cross the Line (No Matarás, 2020), which starts off setting protagonist Dani (Mario Casas) as one of the nicest guys you could ever meet — as well as one of the meekest. Once viewers get to know and like him, the film puts him through multiple wringers. You know those films where characters make stupid decisions and you lose interest in the plot? Well, director David Victori goes a different route, as Dani continually makes poor decisions and we can’t help but hope that things will somehow work out for him, investing us deeper as the night and its fingernail-chewing events unfold. The clever screenplay by Victori, Jordi Vallejo, and Clara Viola offers rays of hope but light at the end of the tunnel always seems to be just out of reach . . . or is it? Dani gets in over his head when he meets femme fatale Mila (Milena Smit) in a pub and pays for two hamburgers: one for her and one for her date who stood her up. She offers to pay him back if he follows her up the street a bit — and don’t learn anything more than that going in, except that once Cross the Line shifts into high gear, it never lets up. Victori sometimes places the camera just behind Dani, as if viewers could grab him by the shoulder and implore him not to go any further — but we can’t. At other times, the camera is unrelentingly close to violence and danger. Elías M. Félix’s handheld cinematography work is terrific. Casas won the Goya Award for Best Actor — along with two other Best Actor awards — for his portrayal of the mild-mannered Dani and the character arc he goes through, and for good reason. Once things go sideways, much of his performance is wordless, relying on his facial expressions and action to heighten the proceedings and propel the story forward. Smit is great, too, as a strong-willed temptress determined to break Dani free from his shell. Buckle up for Cross the Line and prepare yourself for one of the tightest thrillers in recent memory.
Reviews by Joseph Perry
Medusa and Cross the Line screened as part of Sweden’s Lund International Fantastic Film Festival , which ran as a hybrid version with both in-theater and virtual versions from October 30–November 5, 2021. For more information, visit https://www.fff.se/.