Astonished writer-director Anita Rocha da Silveira has more in common with Italian horror – especially Dario Argento – than with the Greek character of the same name. Mari (Mari Oliveira) and her friends spread their spiritual devotion through pastel roses and catchy gospel songs about purity and perfection. By day they hide behind their neat facade and by night they are a vigilante gang of masked girls, prowling the streets in search of sinners who have strayed from the right path. After an attack goes awry, Mari remains scarred and jobless as her outlook on community, religion, and her peers begins to change.
The visuals pop out of the screen and immediately attack the audience. The bright neon lights of gendered colors that fill the screen are as confrontational as Mari and her friends. It’s a sensory overload that borders on the exhaustion of its reception but recedes just enough. Not content to be only a feast for the eyes, Astonished also uses music to get his message across. From hammered rock scores to eerie musical numbers, what audiences hear can be just as overwhelming as what they see.
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As creative and unique as Astonished is to watch, it won’t be long before it comes down to whether it’s style over substance. The film tries to address many issues – gender, religion, sex and violence are all part of the story being told – but it never quite pans out as it should. Part of the problem is pacing. Running for more than two hours, there is never the sense of urgency that is needed. This is most evident during the bloated midsection which seems to just take its time.
Even then, there are moments of satirical genius to be found. In one of the film’s best scenes, Mari’s friend Michelle (Lara Tremouroux) makes an instructional video on how to take the “perfect Christian selfie.” Unfortunately, there isn’t enough character exploration like this, as Mari is the only character with any depth. Still, Astonished is a thrilling and memorable watch.
Astonished opens in select theaters July 29
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