American Mary has arrived at a very interesting time in my life. A time where my mind is very focused on my own films and on the numerous ways that we, as people, can alter, augment and otherwise change the physical form and appearance of our own bodies.
By its very definition, “body horror” is any film in which “the horror is principally derived from the graphic destruction or degeneration of the body” and while there are certainly aspects of American Mary that would see it placed within that camp, there is a whole lot more than that to love about the latest film from Canadian twins Jen and Sylvia Soska.
When the Twisted Twins dropped their last flick, Dead Hooker In A Trunk, upon audiences, the grindhouse/exploitation contingent absolutely lapped it up, bestowing upon it the current cult status that the film enjoys today. But that was then.
Cut to now and I doubt if anyone would have expected them to return with a film that is as assured, mature and impressive as American Mary.
American Mary is the story of medical student Mary Mason. It’s fair to say that Mary isn’t having a great time of things. She is skint. Her studies are suffering. The bills are mounting. You know how it is. So, in an attempt to get her life back on an even keel and maybe pay her bills, Mary considers working as a dancer in a club. During her “interview”, Mary’s medical savvy is called into play, which in turn, leads to a visit from Beatress, a dancer with more than a passing resemblance to Betty Boop, who comes to Mary with an offer that she cannot refuse.
So, Mary finds herself drawn into the world of underground plastic surgeries and body modification and, as the money continues to roll in and her reputation grows, her life, and those of everyone around her, will be altered irrevocably.
That was a brief synopsis there, delivered as such to keep many of the best parts of American Mary from being all over the internet. The film deserves to be seen and enjoyed with as little knowledge as possible.
The differences between Dead Hooker… and American Mary could not be more startling. In the two short years between then and now, the Soska Sisters have grown dramatically as directors. Whereas Dead Hooker… was a rough, low-budget affair, American Mary is as polished and sumptuous a production as you are likely to see and the twins can hold their heads up proudly and proclaim, “We made that, then made this”. It really is that impressive.
The cast are excellent too. Antonio Cupo is great as club owner Billy, though I wasn’t always convinced of the tough-guy aspect of his character. I would also have liked to see a little more of the blossoming romance between Billy and Mary, though that’s a minor nit-pick. Twan Holliday puts in a fun turn as Lance, the bad-ass henchman with a big heart. The Twins themselves even pop up for a brief and heavily-accented performance, that marks a turning point in Mary’s “career”.
Burlesque dancer and performance artist Tristan Risk is superb as Beatress. Buried under a pile of prosthetics, she is instantly likeable and her character may be remembered as one of the finest creations in modern genre cinema.
However, this is entirely Katharine Isabelle’s show…and she is wonderful. Isabelle’s role here will be the yardstick by which her entire career will be measured from this point onwards and she manages to imbue the character of Mary with sensitivity, sexuality, downright goofiness and even, cool, calculating menace.
It’s perhaps inaccurate to refer to American Mary as a horror film. It does have some pretty grim moments but those are only there to serve the story and are never too much. American Mary is ultimately a film that celebrates the diversity among us and asks us to look at how accepting we are of alternative lifestyles and embrace that variety.
American Mary should be considered as the Soska Twins declaration of intent. It’s a declaration that says that these twins are a real talent to keep an eye on and who have shown a maturity with American Mary that may just surprise many people.