Black Medusa (2021)

Synopsis: By day Nada (Nour Hajri) is a reclusive young woman in a boring office job. She doesn’t speak. By night she picks up men in Tunis’ vibrant nightlife. Here too, she doesn’t speak. She listens to their stories. She goes home with them. And then she kills them.

I’m still uncertain about this. It’s definitely not an easy watch, it’s certainly not cosy, but what it is, is intriguing. It’s one of those films which you watch and you think “maybe I should turn it off” but if someone grabs the remote you tell them to put it down and live the film on.

This film is nothing if not incredibly brave, not many films would start with the main character raping a stranger with a broomstick (the last Spider-man film excluded, obviously). This takes an unflinching look at the character and her actions. It doesn’t condemn her, but it also doesn’t focus on giving her too much of a tragic backstory (there’s a moment early on in flashback but it’s not one that’s focused on throughout the film, it’s a relatively brief moment). It’s not “she is evil”, or “she is good”, it just says “she is”. We’re not asked to judge her, we’re just asked to observe. There’s a cold, emotionless feeling to the killings. We don’t focus on the faces of the victims, sometimes it’s not even on her, we’re watching from a distance, in the dark. It’s strangely compelling.

From a technical standpoint, a lot of this is wonderful. There are some great long shots. The camera staying still as the characters walk towards it from the far end of the street, really highlights how empty the streets are in a way that a more traditional tracking shot would not have. The sound too, the way they use silence when she’s walking down a street really highlights the emptiness of the location. There’s a scene where she kills someone in a house and it is so artfully done, there’s no music, no dramatic cuts. Just the sound of the knife hitting flesh, and shoes squeaking on the floor, to a static camera.

This film isn’t for everybody, for starters, it’s subtitled which may put some people off. It’s not too big an issue but there are a few moments where the subtitles aren’t placed greatly, they linger long after a character has spoken. I know that was probably an outside company that did that, but it’s still not great and does harm your enjoyment. It’s also in black and white, but sometimes that worked for it, there’s a scene in the woods where it’s incredibly bright and striking, in a way we don’t associate with black and white movies often, the character is truly happy, and we can tell from the lighting. But then it almost instantly changes and becomes a lot darker. The way they did it could not be done as effectively if it was in colour.

But then are times when the lack of colour hurts it, where so many things take place in shadows that you can’t really tell what’s going on. It does feel like it could be a bit more straightforward in some ways too. It’s a relatively simple story but it’s being told like an art-house student film in terms of how long the cuts are, and what it refuses to show you.

As frustrating as it is enjoyable. You will be annoyed at what you’re watching, but you won’t be able to turn away. It’s fascinating and unique. Plus the sounds of the stabbings were wonderful in how “wet” they sounded. As fascinating as it is though, I do wish it was better. I wish there was more character work, I wish there was less stuff there only for the sake of “well this is ART”. Ultimately, I wish it had a point to it.

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