American Mary (2013)

Though their debut, Dead Hooker In A Trunk, left a lot to be desired, the Soska sisters’ follow-up, American Mary, garnered serious buzz on the festival circuit, and its bad ass trailer left me almost weeping with joy. American Mary is a significant improvement on its predecessor. In fact, if this were their debut, the sisters would be on much more solid footing. Unfortunately, though it has an interesting premise, the end product is confused and messy, its message unclear, and slightly troubling.

The film follows Mary (played with effortless sex appeal by genre vet Isabelle), a promising surgery student, struggling to juggle her studies while paying off mounting debts. As a last resort, Mary interviews for a job in a strip club, run by greasy conman Billy (Antonio Cupo). Billy realises Mary could be useful, and offers her $5,000 cash to sew up a dude he and his heavy Lance (Twan Holliday) have just roughed up. The experience doesn’t sit well with her, and she tries to move on, until she is asked to perform an unusual surgery, on a woman who wants to be more doll-like. Afterwards, Mary attempts to focus on her studies, but a horrifying experience forces her to turn her back on her degree, and she quickly embraces her new career as a backdoor surgeon, diving headfirst into the world of extreme body modification.

If it seems like a bit of a jump, it is. Make no mistake; this is an “all men are pigs” movie, in the same unsettlingly one-sided vein as Teeth. Lance and Billy become Mary’s only friends, but even Billy is constantly fantasising about fucking her. The professor is an asshole from the outset, swearing far too much, and calling to threaten Mary so often, that he can’t be taken seriously as a normal person. This makes the rape revenge angle difficult to get on board with, though the quick turnaround, which allows Mary to get her rather gruesome revenge almost immediately, is a refreshing change from the norm. At least we don’t have to suffer through scenes of her crying in the dark.

The main problem with American Mary is that it’s all a bit muddled. Though it’s clear that we are supposed to root for Mary, a case is never made in her defence, and she doesn’t realise the error of her ways, even when she becomes the villain. The message of the film is that no man should be trusted, and yet Mary is sexualised throughout, even performing surgeries in bondage gear and lingerie.

The body mod angle is interesting, but its inclusion feels gimmicky, and enthusiasts shouldn’t expect to see it handled particularly well. At one point, modified people are trotted out, like circus freaks, and no explanation is offered as to why anyone would go to such extremes.

The idea of Mary sewing up Billy’s victims is a far more interesting, and gruesome, one, but we only get a little snippet, before it’s dispensed with entirely. The premise is horrifying, and there are some gruesome visuals, but not enough to really drive the point home. Even so, it’s unclear what it is. It’s as though the Soskas thought of a cool idea, but didn’t consider how to implement it within a narrative.

As a result, the setup, and ending, is rushed, and an awful lot of the direction and writing is mishandled. The Soskas clearly have potential and their cringe-worthy, self- serving cameo aside – their attempts at German accents are like particularly camp Bond villains – this is still a good horror movie.

American Mary is not a pleasant experience, and it doesn’t encourage repeat viewings, much like Excision, which deals with similar themes. But it’s commendable for attempting something new with the genre.

Katherine Isabelle is fantastic in the lead. Although she doesn’t inspire as much fear as she should, it’s clear that the story wouldn’t work without her. The world in which she exists is incredibly dark, and it will stay with you afterwards. In that sense, the film is quite scary, even though we don’t really see much.

The central idea, that all men are asshole rapists, is troublesome, and it is completely mishandled. No alternative argument is made, and it drags the story down, making it difficult to empathise with any of the characters. The film could’ve stood on its own, as a study of a woman who loses her way and turns to horrific means to survive. However, all things considered, American Mary is still worth a look, for its original concept, and some decent scares.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

2 Comments on “American Mary”

  1. I was shocked by how original it was. Or seems to be. Isabelle finally will be known for something other than Ginger Snaps (and Freddy vs. Jason)

  2. Joey says:

    Me too! It just sucks that the concept was kind of wasted. But it’s great to see Isabelle getting a properly meaty role, for once.

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