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American Mary

2012 | 103 min | R | 2.39:1

American Mary


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Theatrical release date

 31 May, 2013
 11 January, 2013

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American Mary


Screenshots from American Mary Blu-ray

American Mary Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, May 31, 2013

With “American Mary,” the Soska Sisters, identical twins Jen and Sylvia, become a force to be reckoned with in the horror community. While their screenwriting ultimately fumbles the climax, the picture remains a fascinatingly brutal, charmingly perverse creation that always maintains its composure, despite an open invitation to dwell on extreme personalities in a most untidy manner. Funky without feeling oppressive, “American Mary” is sharply made and well acted, keeping it ahead of routine genre offerings with its unique interest in the body modification subculture, approaching disturbing behavior with a palpable comfort level that’s not encountered often enough.

Struggling with bills while working her way through medical school to become an ace surgeon, Mary (Katharine Isabelle) can’t quite make ends meet, while her instructor, Dr. Grant (David Lovgren), is placing excessive pressure on her academic performance. Trying to land a gig as a stripper for seedy club owner Billy (Antonio Cupo), Mary is instead drafted into performing impromptu surgery on beaten man. When word of her clean, efficient work spreads, Mary is approached by Beatrice (Tristan Risk), a woman who’s transformed herself into a Betty Boop lookalike, who offers the struggling student a chance to make serious cash in the world of body modification, helping those who desire an extreme change in appearance with the process of slicing and dicing. After working on a patient who dreams of looking like a plastic doll, Mary finds herself overwhelmed with requests. However, after receiving nightmarish treatment from Dr. Grant during a faculty party, Mary elects to perfect her skills on the monster, triggering interest from a local cop investigating the doctor’s disappearance.

Body modification isn’t a subject normally covered in cinema, requiring a certain understanding to explore the lifestyle without demonizing it. The Soska Sisters haven’t mounted an extreme psychological exploration of the fetish, but “American Mary” remains surprisingly calm when detailing extreme acts of surgery, using the inherent oddity of contorted faces and chilling designs of flesh-based liberation (the aforementioned doll woman requests the removal of her nipples to provide the smooth look she’s been craving) to provide the requisite amount of unsettling qualities the genre demands. Still, considering all the creepy imagery involved in establishing Mary’s work, detailed with close-ups and bloodletting, it’s a miracle “American Mary” is approachable at all.

The story, at least the first two acts of it, paints a compelling portrait of a desperate woman falling into an opportunity she’s more than willing to take advantage of. Lured by big money and Beatrice’s insistent attitude, Mary’s entry into this surgical underworld is made plausible by Isabelle’s feisty performance, spinning the character with a short attention span and eagerness to prove herself away from the demands of the classroom. It’s bright, commanding work from the actress, supported by writing that’s crude but successfully motivated, establishing Mary’s desperate and hunger for revenge when Dr. Grant sexually assaults her, generating a secure tone of exploitation that’s engorged by the all the weird faces and extraordinary encounters the character endures as she acclimates to her new position. “American Mary” doesn’t color outside the lines, but it’s solidly built, with terrific, stylish cinematography by Brian Pearson that gives the film a visual presence instead of wallowing in cheap schlock. The directors (who cameo as twins with a request to be conjoined) also show a keen eye for gruesome minutiae, happily taking in the textures of sliced flesh and distorted bodies.

It’s the conclusion that ultimately undoes “American Mary,” attempting to pay off the titular character’s vague relationship with Billy with a hallucinatory twist, while procedural antics with the local cops fail to head anywhere interesting, standing out as pure formula in a movie that’s much more at ease with the bizarre. Granted, it seems impossible to close out Mary’s journey without smashing the unique tempo of the picture, but the Soska Sisters elect to wipe out instead of stumble. Regardless of any climatic blunders, the filmmakers display a burgeoning talent that should be exciting to watch develop in future endeavors, especially if they stick close to the beat of their black hearts, eschewing the temptation of screenwriting templates.

Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, David Lovgren, Paula Lindberg, Jen Soska
Directors: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska

» See full cast & crew

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