American Mary (2012)
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Getting that out of the way, I am not labeling this movie as torture porn, but it is the furthest thing from it. I have to commend the filmmakers for taking a concept that screamed of a torture porn plot but avoided making it such. The writers and directors tried to make this film less about the body modifications as it was about the change in personality of the lead character. However, they did such a poor job doing this that they should have just made an idiotic torture porn movie.
"American Mary" is basically a film about a poor med student who begins to take body modification jobs to keep her bills paid. At first she is reluctant to do so, but this changes over time. When one of her former professors drugs her and rapes her, she quits med school and after beginning a long revenge scenario with him, she becomes a very distant shell of what she previously was. The nice girl trying to get through school becomes emotionally blank and immorally bankrupt.
This movie fails because its plot is way too unlikely. Mary's change happens too quickly and it seems to come about as the means for a plot device and not her character. By the time you get half way through the movie, any sympathy for Mary is gone. She has no morals and no redeeming factors.
This is a dreary and boring and terrible film I suggest you skip over.
First to the story-telling: so you have that idea about a film with extreme body-modifications. Great. I already smell(ed) all kind of horrors. But where would you take such a thing and what would you do with it? What side of the human nature are you going to explore? Something along the lines of mutilation/self-destruction versus correction or beautification? Or rather something more wicked along the lines of Frazer's "On edge"?
Nope. You won't get much of anything the like or even slightly interesting. Unforuntately the soska sisters aren't much of explorers (which great film-makers, or more generally story-tellers, are!), so they don't explore (as in illuminate) anything. Not in particular anyways. This is a film where "being raped" is all the character development you'll get. But mind you, this is no "Irreversible". Not at all.
Why was this rape-plot even necessary? As a catalyst? Nah... just to setup that revenge-sub-plot. And why was that really necessary? Because there would be no horror left. That's why. You see, that's the main problem: since not exploring anything, the soska sisters didn't manage to come up with a good (or horrifying) main plot. Extreme body-modification? Sure, no big deal, just count from 100 to zero and you'll be fine! They wake up and live happily ever after. Nothing else happens. No complications whatsoever. Nobody dies. No drama. Nothing. Just the barbie doesn't want to be regarded as sex object, that's why she 1) got herself huge breast implants(?! - and don't even try to argue here; we clearly are shown the scarfs from that booby-surgery) to then 2) remove the nipples (they might have removed brains in an additional step...).
So there's nothing. Let's have some rape and then we can have the revenge-horror! DUUHHH. Also there is a cop that doesn't do anything, but hurray: another useless and derivative sub-plot! They tried so hard to create any kind of suspense... it's not even funny and it doesn't work on any level.
Second; the filmmaking: it's horrendous. There is no flow, cuts and whole scenes are more often irritating than not. Ultimatively the soska sisters struggle with film language. A lot (to the point that it gets hell(!) of annoying!).
Mary (Katherine Isabelle) is a promising and dedicated medical student who, like all students at one point or another in their studies, falls foul of financial difficulty. Lured into the world of body modification by the handsome prices offered by weirdos with a desire to make themselves more unique, Mary finds a way to continue her studies whilst earning some pretty good money. Wrongly assumed to have become a prostitute by her creepy professor she is invited to a sleazy surgeons party unaware that he has ulterior motives that make her new found profession start to take over her life.
American Mary is one of few horror films that's focus is on the female character's strength. Mary goes from being a hardworking model student to a psychotic body modification surgeon in a seedy strip club where she originally auditioned to work. The transformation from quiet student to headstrong surgical dominatrix after being violated is both empowering and contradictory of the traditional representation of women in horror. Katherine Isabelle is as charismatic as she is beautiful and she completely owns the character. She maintains an air of mystery which makes you constantly question her intentions towards the people she meets and her performance will keep you on your toes.
Darkly comedic and completely twisted American Mary is one damn good reason for women in the media to be more prevalent in the horror genre; there's no fluff in this film, no cliché crap and very little predictability. It has no eye-roll moments of exploitation and Isabelle's performance is empowering for women as well as easy on the eye for the men; a good balance that excludes neither gender from the audience like so many horror films do. The Soska sisters show their love for the horror genre and its brutality but also its more sexy side (which is weird considering all the blood, but there we go!) and American Mary is clearly a labour of love and not just some uncared for cliché torture porn that's been churned out as a money maker. The settings are seedy and dark and the sleazy underbelly of society is well portrayed but in an almost desirable fashion that enables us to see how easy it is for Mary to get sucked in to this world where money comes easily if you're willing to leave your comfort zone.
If you can ignore the occasionally questionable performances American Mary is an all round brilliant horror film that sucks you in to this brutal, seedy, sexy universe for 100 minutes and refuses to let your attention slip. What happens to Mary's professor is as genius as it is disturbing, but you will have to watch to find out for yourself.
As for Faults, well, American Mary is a great film, but it peaks two-thirds of the way in, and by comparison it's ending feels a little timid and noncommittal.
Now, this is a bit over critical on my part, and it's only a minor flaw, but one that stands out as there are so few in the film. It's the cameo from the Soska sisters, I get it, I do, If I made a horror film, I'd want to be in it too, but this just wasn't the parts for them. Although I suspect they probably wrote it with themselves in mind. It's only a short scene but one with so much potential. The Soska sisters play big characters in a scene that could have been wonderfully unsettling, but instead its a bit flat and clumsy. The girls just didn't have the physical presence or screen confidence required to fill out the roles.
American Mary would have been excellent if it wasn't hindered by a few minor flaws and a weak ending. Overall, a delicate, but by no means tame, addition to the torture porn sub-genre. This film could easily become a horror cult classic, and deservingly so. I will be interested to see what the Soska sisters do next.
First and foremost. The plot is that Mary Mason is a broke medical student that will do anything to make money. She gets a call from someone asking if Mary can remove skin off another woman's nipples and sew her vagina shut. After that she begins to modify other people, making them freaks of nature. While this is happening she gets raped by her former lecturer. This results in her practicing her body modifying skills on him, dismembering him, sewing his mouth shut and other basic tortures.
Okay, where do I start? Nothing about this is scary. It's disgusting, but I don't see that as a form of horror. If you also don't see it as a form of horror then leave this where it is.
Then we move onto the acting. As usual The Soska's are crap. I know, they played a small role in this one but I think they deserve a special mention. I did hear from people that they needed a director to say "tone it down" but because I have seen them in movies directed by other people, they still weren't any good. When I heard that Katherine Isabelle was in this after seeing "Dead Hooker In A Trunk" I thought that she could maybe carry the movie. She didn't (which only says I overestimated her acting ability, nothing more). The rest are as forgettable as this review will be 10 years after you last read it.
If the goal of the Soska's was to create a movie where the audience just goes through the motions, not caring about a single thing that goes on screen nor have anything that really sticks out then they have succeeded with me.
But from what I've seen a majority of the people on IMDb think it's decent. If you want to ignore me and go for the popular choice then that is perfectly fine. But if you have a taste in movies that is like mine then avoid this Cronenberg imitation.
Seeing as this is a Canadian horror film perhaps a comparison with David Cronenberg is inevitable. But in this instance it's a fairly relevant one as in many ways this is another example of the body horror sub-genre. It's a film that combines contemporary sadistic horror with a view of an unusual subculture of people who modify their bodies through surgery. It isn't a very story driven film to be fair and it sometimes lacks a bit of overall dynamism but this is only a relatively minor observation and it is pleasingly original for the most part. Overall the feature could perhaps best be described as what would happen if Clive Barker was to direct a film that combined elements of Hard Candy and Audition.
There's very little good to say about American Mary. I entered the screening room with high hopes and departed wide-eyed and dismayed. It's embarrassing to laugh at unintentionally funny moments in a film but there were plenty of them. American Mary is indeed shocking, but not in a good way.
American Mary is clearly a vanity project from two girls whose executive producer parents apparently (part) funded the project. Two girls who have watched Human Centipede once too often. Two girls who are trying reeeeally hard to be rebellious and shock the world by doing naughty things on screen and swearing pointlessly and with embarrassing amounts of emphasis on each expletive just so we get how rude they're being. Such pain! Even in the Q&A they tried desperately hard to shock; the first sentence out of their mouths referring to some scallywag as a f****** c*** and then repeated, over-egged obscenities punctuating inane responses to toadying fanboy questions. Oh, to have been shocked and offended. That would have been a joy compared to the embarrassment of watching three children showing off to a roomful of adults. There's an old adage: If you want to be seen, stand up; if you want to be heard, speak up; if you want to be respected, shut up. I saw, I heard, I departed and I averted my gaze.
American Mary is a horror flick about a disenchanted surgery intern, Mary (Isabelle) with financial worries who is sucked into the very dark side of plastic surgery aka body modification aka freakish mutilation. It starts out as a way for Mary to earn money (via torture and creating Barbie lookalikes) then becomes a hobby and finally a way to exact revenge and satisfy her perverse whims.
I don't have a problem with the subject matter; it's great to be challenged. I have a problem with the dire script, the god-awful cod accents (the worst of which are from the Soska twins who cast themselves as, um, freakish twins) and the horrendous sound mix that changes mid-scene (!) and at one point had us all looking over our left shoulders to work out which member of the audience was moaning, only to realize it was the character off-screen in an entirely different direction! Random scenes are plonked into the film to separate others and to imply the passage of time. A cringeworthy scene in which Mary learns some news of her grandmother prompts further smothered guffaws and is just one more reason to condemn this amateurish tripe. This is just one long, clumsy, pointless film that really wants to be offensive but succeeds in being virtually irrelevant.
Certainly there are a couple of moments when the stomach twinges with the implied gore, but mostly the horror is in the performance. Paula Lindeberg is so ridiculously excessive in her performance as the plasticized Ruby Realgirl with her squeaky voice and clapping hands that Isabelle comes across as subtlety incarnate. Antonio Cupo plays strip joint owner Billy Barker as though auditioning to play Mark Ruffalo and when John Emmet Tracy wanders on to the screen with intended sincerity as Detective Dolor, the thud was the sound of many jaws bouncing on the floor. Why does an American detective in an American film set in America have a 'British' accent? Well, according to Soska and Soska it's because they wanted their detective to sound exactly like their hero Clive Barker. It would appear no-one told them Barker is a Liverpudlian who now speaks with an LA drawl. Yup, that's about the level of American Mary.
So why does American Mary earn two stars? Because the art direction triumphs, the set is pretty, the principal prosthetics are perfect and Mary's costumes get progressively sexier as the film rolls on. Costume designer Jayne Mabbott is by far and away the star of American Mary and by the time Mary dons her red surgeon's gown in a reference to Dead Ringers, Mabbott has made her the most erotic murderess on the big screen.
Perhaps next time Soska and Soska are let lose with a camera they should be 'encouraged' to spend their budget on a few more talents like Mabbott.
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