on 11 January 2013
Mary Mason is an ambitious and focused medical student who is down her luck. Growing increasingly more broke, she desperately needs money and hits rock bottom when she applies to work at a strip club. During the sleazy interview, the club owner asks for her medical expertise when one of his associates is severely injured for an astronomical amount of money in cash. Of course, she performs the illegal surgery and feels sickened, but happy for the money. Later on, Beatress Johnson, a performer from the strip club who looks just like Betty Boop, approaches Mary for a business proposition involving extreme body modification. She refuses at first to focus on her studies, but after being traumatized and alienated by the teacher she truly admired and the medical field as a whole, she assents and throws herself full force into the dark and sometimes bizarre world of illegal body modification.
I have been itching to see American Mary since Jen and Sylvia Soska's panel from last year's San Diego Comic Con. I finally got the chance when the film was featured at LA's Screamfest and subsequently won most of the awards there, including best picture, best director, best actress, best makeup, and best cinematography The plot and execution of this film is more unique than the majority of the horror films I've seen over the last year. It's truly a breath of fresh air among all the remakes and sequels with twists, turns, and shocking moments. It subverts expectations at every turn and avoids the typical formulaic horror for an unpredictable plot that kept me guessing what would happen. For a movie about surgery, the use of blood and gore is quite restrained and the entire film is beautifully shot. I expected buckets upon buckets of blood, especially after Dead Hooker in a Trunk. The cinematography is polished, gorgeous, and completely different from their previous film. The scenes of surgery are especially ethereal looking, enhanced by the use of Gounod's Ave Maria as background music.
The body modification community could have easily come off as freaks or monsters, but the Soska twins merely present them as normal people with tastes for socially unacceptable appearances. They also worked with people from the Church of Body Modification as consultants and actors to authentically portray their community. Since many of these people's reasons to get this type of surgery is just as if not more valid than those getting conventional plastic surgery, it begs the question why many of the procedures are illegal. This community in the film comes off as more welcoming and nice than the "normal" people. The members of the medical community are supposed to be the best and brightest our society has to offer, but are portrayed as manipulative adrenaline junkies that don't think twice about taking advantage of their students. This reversal of expectations provides a new perspective not typically seen in any genre.
The characters also aren't what one would expect. Mary Mason is a focused, driven woman, but she doesn't have many redeeming qualities. Her main motivations are selfish and greedy (except for her drive for revenge) and her demeanor is largely aloof, detached, and fake. The only real difference in her behavior after the abuse is that an undercurrent of rage runs underneath her coldness. She also goes a bit crazy after embracing her lucrative and illegal career. Despite her flaws, she remains a sympathetic character throughout the film due to the writing and Katharine Isabelle's performance. She's a complex character, being the final girl and the killer at the same time. The rare glimpses of vulnerability and true emotion in Mary are priceless and brought about by the rough looking but genuinely kind hearted bouncer that works at the strip club. Billy is the sleazy strip club owner who regularly victimizes his employees. You wouldn't really expect him to have any redeeming qualities, but he is quite sweet to Mary and really cares about her. Their relationship gives an awkwardly romantic element to the film that adds a sweetness to a very dark film. These characters are far from perfect, but their glimpses of lightness and true emotion is beautiful in the backdrop of crime, jadedness, and violence.
The only problem I have with the film is the pacing. It seems to lose a little steam near the end, but picks up after a shocking turn of events. Everything else is wonderful. Todd Masters' makeup and prosthetics and the avoidance of CGI work in their favor because it looked real and I believe will look better as time goes by. The performances are singular and coupled with the writing are the real stars of American Mary. The characters are the most realistic I have seen on screen, especially in a genre usually rife with stock characters, and I love them, flaws and all. Jen and Sylvia Soska are not only kickass writers and directors, but genuinely nice people who take the time to reach out to their fans. I will watch anything they create from this point on because I know it will be different than anything I've seen and of the highest quality.
on 11 May 2013
Having watched the previous film done by the Soska twins called Dead Hookers in a Trunk last year which I thought was a pretty decent low budget comedy/horror film, I was really curious to see what their second feature was like. American Mary is a dark, deliciously funny character study of young Mary Mason, a surgeon-in-training with financial woes and a regrettable penchant for making awful decisions in life. Played by the lovely Katherine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, Freddy Vs. Jason), Mary is up to her neck in debt, so in a bid to keep the wolves from the door she auditions as a stripper at her local den of sleaze (the fact that she diligently brings along her CV is fairly indicative of Mary's level of innocence at this point). When a crisis arises the club owner, Billy, aware of Mary's medical training, offers her a substantial fee for a one-off gig as a mob surgeon. Mary has her doubts briefly before making the first in a series of regrettable decisions.
The rest of the film follows Mary's descent into the world of off-the-books extreme body modification, a field in which she eventually becomes the notorious dark mistress. Drawing and guiding her into this world is Beatress (Tristan Risk), a dancer who has opted to become the living incarnation of Bettie Boop (and looks pretty much as odd as that sounds). Other colourful characters she encounters include Ruby Realgirl, a woman with the hauntingly surreal visage of a doll who wishes to become as anatomically incorrect as her shelf-sitting inspirations, and the Soska sisters themselves as twin teutonic body mod kingpins with grand designs for themselves. The idea as it is might not be original, but it does fit fine into this story. Plus we have a great female lead. You might feel that her drive is slowed down at one point mid-through the film, but that would mean you're missing the point. It's more character driven than story driven. And it works that way. Social commentary and other things included of course. There's plenty of sick gore and disturbing images through out the film and in my opinion it was definitely better than Dead Hooker. This would have to be one of the Soska's better movies to date in my opinion, a great little horror flick that I highly recommend to horror fans.
on 27 March 2013
Are you kidding me? The best movie in years!!!
This is a film that has all the makings of a cult horror movie, and my god does it pack a punch. Gutsy, gory and gloriously unique, American Mary is a film that has propelled itself into the top ranks of my favourite horror movies.
To say that this stylish, innovative and riveting piece is only the Soska sister's second directorial work is astounding. I was blown away by the storyline and by how beautiful the cinematography was, directed with such style and perfection, but with no fear of dark, gritty shots of blood and gore, everything about this film was incredible.
The Soska sister's cameo in American Mary brought about one of the creepiest sections, filled with the bizarre and I loved it.
This is such a unique film, people are labelling it 'body-horror', and I can understand that, but for me it transcends the labels any one sub- genre can impose on it. It is sadistic, bloody and psychological, with some bizarre and gloriously disturbed scenes, and also provides moments of tension and sadness. It is an amalgam of a lot of great things in horror, and it works wonderfully.
I cannot recommend this film enough. You have to see it. I have no doubt in my mind that Jen and Sylvia Soska are going to go on to become legends in our genre. I adore that some of the most creative, impressive work in a long time has come from female directors; we need more of them and I, for one, am damn happy that the Soskas are here. I think they're going to be here to stay.
on 1 March 2013
I have not heard much about Katherine Isabelle since her character Ginger in Ginger Snaps and Ginger Snaps Back - until now. I did order this on spec; the reviews had been good and Mark Kermode apparently gave it the thumbs up. Very strange and at times disturbing film that has a very dark vein of black humour running through it - also a film that has some very sympathetic and at times vulnerable people in it. Ultimately, a story of revenge, this film concerns the obscure world of 'body modification', which, I confess, I didn't know that much about - and still don't really! - and the lengths that some will go to to achieve their desired results in 'body image'. Some of it quite startling and in places rather sensuous and erotic, especially a daydream sequence involving Katherine Isabelle and a glass jar of red syrup . . . . !
Directed by twins Jan and Sylvia Soska with style and panache, there were a couple of times where I thought 'I am going to look away now' but the camera pulls away just as my toes began to curl in horrid anticipation! Sure, it does have some very very graphic images - hence the 18 rating - but the element of humour threaded through it, somehow makes it more watchable? I have seen it twice now, and is definitely one that I will enjoy again - and I will be keeping an eye out for future films by the Soska Twins!! There are some excellent bonus features on the disc, including a 'making of' featurette and a short but entertaining docu at the London frightfest where the film was first shown.
on 26 February 2013
What this film is not is a shock horror flick delivering scares around each corner, nor some mindless slasher with an evil-yet-pretty girl in a black vinyl apron torturing the innocents.
What this film is is a stylishly shot, emotionally pervasive, creeping horror movie, benefiting from the charisma of good casting, and a hefty dash of the ever-fascinating fetish world's underbelly that only adds to the flavour of a solid screenplay.
It's strongest suit is perhaps the fact that lead character (Bloody Mary) Katharine Isabelle is genuinely likeable, and has that special something about her, that makes you want to keep watching.
In one particular scene, she stalks a previous victim moving from the background to the foreground of the shot in her wrap-around black surgical apron, rubber surgical gloves, and six-inch stilettos, like a wolf scenting prey.
Simple enough for me to describe here, but it's well shot with a washed-out colour palette reminiscent of the excellently original Saw movie, and indicative of the care with which the film has been put together.
What makes Isabelle compelling on screen is that she's not at all 'vanilla' pretty, having something of the cute yet disturbed Japanese Anime girl about her.
She comes across quite naturally as the sharp-minded med-student training to be a surgeon, whose single miss-step leads to her irrevocable descent into a darker underworld, where her skills with the scalpel are put to a different yet far more interesting (for us the viewer) use.
The film works well because is chooses to side step becoming a one-trick pony bogged down in the self-gratification of ever greater feats of shocking surgical alterations on her - sometimes willing and sometimes unwilling - patients.
Because at the heart of the film is the true nugget of cancer worming its way through the film, as we bear witness to the destruction of an intelligent young lady's promise of a happy future, through the actions of others.
The most horrific scene in the movie - the turning point in her life - sees not a single drop of blood shed during the handful of minutes where it occurs, yet from me drew the strongest emotional response.
That is not to say the razzle dazzle of surgical procedures aren't entertaining, delightful moments of toe-curling (and for me, as a man) legs-crossing delight.
For example, I watched with some discomfort and squirmed a little in my seat as the film's leading lady whispers a shopping list of chilling body modifications into the ear of one particularly unfortunate, yet deserving male, who has wronged her.
Neither does the film take itself too seriously, and there is a sensitivity for the complexity of the subject matter which means this film never cheapens itself by turning into a horror soft porn flick - such a fate could have been a possibility.
To some the movie may have a veneer of feminism, but only if your classification of that idea extends merely to the conclusion that to attain any sort of power over men, women need to be cute, wear totteringly high heels and be known to enjoy carving up the human body.
Rather, this is a movie about very flawed human characters - her sort-of love interest is the owner of a strip club, who takes liberties with his own dancers - dressed in a style that could turn off as many viewers as it delights.
However, I sit firmly in the latter classification and I strongly recommend this movie to anyone who wants a little more thought and attachment in their horror. Enjoy.
I'm not sure how best to describe `American Mary.' The easy option would be to call it a `horror,' but that doesn't seem to do it justice on its own. It's more of a dark, horrific drama, charting a young medical student's disillusionment with her studies and pursuing the `easy option' instead. This takes her into the path of some particularly weird and unscrupulous people.
I read online someone describing the film as having a great beginning and middle, but lacking in the end. I'd tend to agree with that. The ending does seem a little sudden, like the film-makers kind of didn't know how best to end it in a way that would appeal to everyone. Your view of the ending will depend largely on how you view the characters.
And the characters all play their parts well. Special kudos to Katherine Isabelle, who plays the title role. The film depends on making her role work and I think she succeeds.
I don't know who I'd recommend this film to: it's one part `torture porn,' one part horror, one part revenge movie and some general bloodthirstyness thrown into the mix. I suppose if you dabble in any of those sorts of genres, you should get something out of it. For some reason, I found the overall feel and `story structure' most similar to the similarly titled American Psycho.
Some horror fans love it, others not so much, which where horror film fans are concerned comes as absolutely no surprise. So roll the dice and take your chance here then!
American Mary is written and directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska. Katharine Isabelle (looking uncannily like Mary Elizabeth Winstead) stars as the titular Mary of the title. She's a medical student who during a cash crisis is lured to the underground world of surgeries not deemed as the norm in medical school circles...
Hoo-hah! Get ready for sexual deviance, dismemberment, human splicing and a whole host of other things that are brilliantly caked in a caustic satirical sauce by the Soska girls. Imagery is strong, the aftertaste lasting as you enter at your own peril a world of repugnant beings masquerading as humans, of fetishists pushing the boundaries, it's noirville but not as we know it Jim. But always there's a pierced and bloody tongue prodding the cheek, even if the odd period of time spent in bizarro world fails to add up.
Wonderful. Go Mary! Go Soska Girls! Just don't call on me any time soon, huh... 8/10
on 15 April 2014
If you were drawn by the plot of the film then I'd suggest buying it or getting hold of a copy to have a watch.
It had me gripped for the opening 30-45 mins as the plot started unfolding, but then it started tapering off and I began losing interest in it. Worth a watch and Katherine Isabelle player her role very well, the support cast was a bit questionable at times but did reasonably OK.
Would recommend this if sold by the plot as I was...
on 24 March 2013
This is one of the past years most awesome darkly disturbing horror movies, very original and well made by the Soska twins who also star in the movie, Katharine Isabelle is amazing in this film as the lead role, she plays a surgeon who has just got through medical school finding it very hard to make ends meet and gets herself through a series of messed up events becoming an underground body modifier performing unusual requests for cash among other personal vendettas, is very dark and gruesome in everyway and is a pleasure to watch, this is certainly Isabelle's greatest performance and its so good to see her get a role like this, it is scary and very entertaining to watch her, this is a must see for horror fans or anybody into this type of subject matter.
on 14 July 2013
Mary is a med student studying to be a surgeon. She is ready for her internship and has financial problems. She answers an ad and as one thing leads to another, she becomes an underground unlicensed surgeon for people who desire odd body modifications. There is the added horror of murder and torture.
It is nice to see something new in horror. Katharine Isabelle as Mary was great, but I never connected to any of the characters, who were fairly cardboard. Indeed, I did not find myself rooting for Mary as the film is not engaging. The picture could have been done better which seemed to have ached for a Jane's Addiction soundtrack.
Worth a rental, not a keeper.
Parental Guide: F-bomb, sex, nudity, off screen rape.