American Mary (2012) Review


American Mary (2012)

Universal Pictures UK

Dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska

Mary Mason, a young med school student training to be a surgeon gets dragged into a world of underground surgery and body modification.
The first thing to say for ‘Mary’ is that it’s an entirely different beast to the Soska Sisters’ debut ‘Dead Hooker In A Trunk’, a gleefully demented exploitation that never paused for breath but with an unexpected heart of gold. With ‘Mary’, gone is the breakneck speed and wild abandon of its predecessor but crucially the inventiveness and pure sense that the Soskas are loving every minute of making the film is simply impossible not to rub off on you.
Whilst her Horror Icon status has of course already been cemented in the fantastic ‘Ginger Snaps’ trilogy, Katherine Isabelle is still a hugely engaging screen presence who doesn’t  receive anything near the amount of praise she deserves. She portrays Mary really as a true ‘every girl’ who is just as shocked and partly disturbed as we are with our first encounters to this underground world of body modification. It is a true testament to her skill as an actress that we experience her slow organic progression into becoming more assertive and devious along with her, so much show that the film can be read as a character study of the lengths to which someone will go not only to assert their independence but to fight back at those who would seek to suppress her in terrible ways.

Not that this is a one woman show, however, the support characters such as Betty-Boop obsessed Beatrice (Tristan Risk) are both fascinating and great fun (Beatrice getting by far the funniest line so far this year, which I won’t repeat as it’s terribly rude!) The Soskas themselves also turn up as body-modification fanatics with hilariously vampish eastern European accents and most interestingly of all, the Soskas actually spend time to develop characters such as strip club owner Billy (Antonio Cupo) and the club security (Sean Amsing), giving them actual depth, development and interesting dialogue when others films would simply look past them.
Deceptively deep is, sadly what will put people off this film. With an attractive blood-stained woman on the front, gore-hounds will dive head first into what they might think is a female-lead ‘Saw’ and end up disappointed. Not that ‘Mary’ shies away from the red red kroovy, far from it, certain scenes of surgery are brilliantly stomach-churning, but the way it’s done is more akin to David Cronenberg,  almost classy and yet done in a brutally harsh light. The fact that the Soskas chose a seldom properly touched upon subject of body modification adds further to just how much this film stands out. They have no interest in stereotypically branding all these people as ‘weird’ or ‘freaks’ but expertly present them as a surprisingly caring community, often with moving back stories about how their modifications are the only think that make them feel comfortable in their own skin.

Jen and Sylvia Soska, directors of American Mary
It remains frustrating that as soon as the ugly subject of rape rears into view which is does in ‘Mary’ in a brutally frank and uncomfortable way, the consensus is to lump all the films that try to deal with it into the same restricting box of ‘rape revenge’. ‘Mary’ is certainly not a ‘rape revenge’ horror as has been misinterpreted by many other reviews. To say that it was only this act in the film that changes Mary into an underground surgeon bent on revenge  is grossly simplistic, the film is far more concerned about Mary’s journey of self-discovery/decent into darkness and the fact that the Soskas chose not to simply gloss over or tantalise as many other films have done represents a bold step in the right direction for how to properly handle such a disturbing scene.
By far the most remarkable aspect of ‘Mary’ is just how gorgeous it looks. On an incredibly limited budget, the Soskas bathe the screen in the most intoxicating reds and blues that add a wonderful Lynchian hyper-reality the perfectly complements the bizarre twisting and turning plot.

The standout sequence is of course Billy’s dream sequence in which he sees Mary pole dancing whilst bathed in blood, a moment that not only neatly sums up the whole look and style of the film but one that really stays with you long after the credits.
I know it’s dull to go along with what seemingly everyone else’s opinion but believe me there is a very good reason why this film and consequently the Soska Sisters are on everyone’s lips at the moment. Phrases like ‘future classic’ are thrown around too often when they really should just be reserved for masterpieces such as this. ‘American Mary’ truly is like nothing else out there, seek it out NOW or risk being left behind.

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Oliver Ryder

About Oliver Ryder

Ever since he saw 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' at the tender age of five, Oli was dragged into the wonderfully disturbing world of horror and has never looked back. He enjoys all things macabre, dark comedy, penguins and likes his coffee black just like his metal.

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