A mythology professor acquires a mirror said to hold the spirit of the Gorgon Medusa. As the artifact begins to disturb his reality, it is left to his friends to prevent him from becoming the human vessel for Medusa’s resurrection.
Jorge Ameer’s Medusa is, to be frank, a weird film. With its mixing of visual styles, oddly distanced performances and unusually paced narrative, it feels wholly leftfield, washing over the viewer and leaving furrowed brows and scratched heads in its wake. The quirky structuring shows its hand in the opening scenes as our protagonist, Dr. Jack Peruci, announces his intentions to seek out Medusa’s mirror (a quest in which many others have lost their lives), implying that a long and arduous journey awaits. A whistle stop later though, and he is back at his apartment with the mirror, ready to prove Medusa’s existence to the university board. The bulk of the runtime is then spent with Jack working late, drinking heavily and becoming ever more susceptible to the mirror’s influence, as the film trundles towards its curiously swift finale.
Despite the hasty setup however, Jack’s acquisition of the mirror is not brushed over, making as it does for perhaps the film’s defining and most memorable sequence. Driving through darkness to a cabin in the woods, Jack meets the mysterious Kao, who insists he spend the night. Played by Ameer, Kao could be a mystic-man cousin of the late Divine, the director over-annunciating every word to a truly absurd degree. Ameer’s performance is a strikingly weird one, but does set the tone for a film in which all the lead performances have a somewhat askew quality. As Jack, Jeff Allen (who looks not entirely dissimilar to Dexter’s Michael C. Hall) appears to border on the amateurish, and he’s not alone. His propensity towards uncomfortable breaks between lines is matched by the at times rather non-committal performance of Tom Struckhoff, playing Jack’s close friend and psychologist Steven. There’s a disconnectedness to the portrayals of the two leads which has a distancing effect for the viewer, but actually adds to the otherworldly feel the film cultivates. It makes for a coldness accentuated by the drab interiors of Jack’s apartment and the university, but opposed by the warmth of Kao’s cabin and the more hallucinatory scenes, where deep reds dominate. Indeed, the screen frequently bleeds with red, whether it is the lighting used to signal the arrival of a ghostly presence, or the baroque lettering of the opening titles which establish a sense of Gothic horror, bringing to mind many a Hammer credits sequence.
The film’s unearthly, quasi-surrealist aura is built of various elements, not least the daring editing choices. Jagged jump cuts are unsettling during otherwise uneventful scenes, and outright nightmarish in others, including Jack’s restless night at Kao’s cabin, in which a red-eyed doll glares at him as he sleeps. While a dreamlike quality permeates the film as a whole, it is the hallucinatory sequences (and their jarring edits) that provide the scares. Such scenes of horror have to them a broken, glitchy feel accentuated by the soundtrack, one of the film’s strengths. There’s a discomforting violence to the sound design, which incorporates electronic grinding and static clicks, providing a perfectly jolting aural accompaniment to the awkward edits. Admittedly not all the sound is so well handled, although the audio hiss certain scenes are subject to does further add to the film’s whole bizarro feel.
Running at over 105 minutes and lacking in larger set pieces, Medusa may well try the patience of certain viewers. It’s a raw, lo-fi flick with a DIY ethic that steers clear of gore and luridness in favour of something more dreamy and trippy. Technical shortcomings add to an air of weirdness, though are admittedly more glaring from time to time, but the talent behind the camera is evidenced by effectively unorthodox editing and impressive frame compositions. Medusa is flawed, talky and 15 minutes too long but it’s also stylish, ambitious and unlike anything you’ve seen recently. Check it out!
Words: Kevan Farrow