American Mary (2012)
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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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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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The first act is promising. Mary Mason is a medical student who is flat broke, and goes to a strip club to apply for a sleazy but high-paying gig that will keep her afloat while she finishes her medical degree. When the mob boss running the club suddenly needs to prolong a mutilated man's life, he enlists her help. Before long, Mary is getting lucrative referrals for increasingly bizarre surgeries.
Initially, the film appears to deliver on its promise. Katherine Isabelle is convincing as a competent but vulnerable woman who is out of her league. The narrative is smart and compelling. However, it does not take long for the film to go off the rails and lose us completely.
Mary is invited to a university faculty party where she is raped by a trusted instructor. While many skilled writers and directors are able to handle the subject matter of rape intelligently, here it's used as a lazy plot device to get her to wholeheartedly turn evil and embrace a life of crime. This new Mary dresses like a dominatrix, enjoys inflicting pain, and revels in the criminal element which once frightened her. It's a huge change brought about in an extremely contrived manner, and it takes the audience out of a film in a way which never allows us to fully return.
Mary goes on doing more and more extreme surgeries, but there is nothing really driving the film from this point on. The revenge on the professor is dispensed with almost immediately. The story then plods on with surgery after surgery and the occasional bout of vengeance, but we already know how the story will end. There's no suspense, and we are left to wait until the directors have decided that they are done with us.
The Soska Sisters have drawn acclaim for being a much-needed female voice in the male-dominated horror genre. It is thoroughly undeserved. Even if this film had not used rape as a plot device, there is nothing here that hundreds of male directors could not have offered us. The body modification horror is actually quite banal; we're supposed to be shocked by suspension piercing, horns, and sub-dermal implants which are actually completely legal and known to anyone familiar with the real-world body-modification community. "American Mary" is the worst kind of horror film, the kind that fails to shock, scare, or amuse its audience.
My expectations for the film were high, having been caught up in the hype around the critically acclaimed body-mod horror - thankfully I was pleasantly surprised. There was a lot of room for error in making the film, but Jen and Sylvia approached the gory side of the film perfectly, letting the viewer see just enough to be grossed out but not enough to warrant a sick bag. Whilst I was expecting fake blood and guts galore, the story and themes within the film were strong enough not to need the usual cheap thrills one might expect in a horror film, in fact I think the film wouldn't have been as good were there more gore. On top of this, the characters were interesting/well developed and thanks to a couple of good casting calls and better performances (namely Katharine Isabelle and Tristan Risk) I found it easy to connect to them in the 103 minutes I watched them on screen.
As many others have commented, it's rare to find female horror directors that manage to hit the nail on the head quite as well as the Twisted Twins have manged to here, fingers crossed for a next project equally as exciting.
Watching her journey is a bit like watching a sex education film. Interesting stuff is going on but you are not part of it and you just have to sit watching uncomfortably until it is over.
The acting, script, lighting etc. is all good. Katharine gives a stella performance, easily pulling off sweet, sexy and sinister, but it is not enough.
There is initially an intriguing insight into a sub culture of people who want to express themselves through physical modification. But all the members of this culture turn out to be stupid, weak or cruel.
Not much gore but there are some disturbing scenes.
This has all the right ingredient but is non-engaging and dull.
Here's a new Bechdel test for women directors: try, just once, making a film WHERE NOBODY GETS RAPED. Apparently, this is much, much harder than it sounds, but TRY. Push yourself. I know you can do it. Try making a film in which men are actually human beings, and one whole half of the human race, instead of just some monolithic, oppressive 'Them'.
This is a misandric film because there are no normal men in it: all of them, without exception, are depicted as evil, weak and pathologically hateful towards women. All men are either thugs or psychopaths. The only even slightly tolerated male character is the bouncer at the strip bar, (a thug Mary can manipulate to do violence for her) who gives her sandwiches and milkshakes, while telling her not to feel bad about killing people: "you make sure they deserve it, then don't waste a minute of your time after they're done". Yeah, you go, girl. Oh and there's a detective in it who actually gets to say (to the twisted monster serial killer) "YOU'RE the victim here, Mary!!".
As usual, a single by-the-books fictional wrong is manipulatively inserted only to justify all the prolonged, orgasmic and utterly reprehensible violence upon men that then follows. None of it was surprising, and all of it is very much a cliché by now. Why do all films by women filmmakers dislike men so much? If you reverse the genders there is no way that this film could even be made, because both women and men would find the violence against women so reprehensible that no-one would show it, it would probably be banned, and certainly no-one would refer to the sick butcher within it as 'sexy'. Correct? But no-one in the reviews here or elsewhere even bats an eyelid at the genocidal hatred here displayed, they simply say it has 'a feminist slant', and leave it at that. And that hatred DOES emanate from feminist propaganda, so I guess they have a point, but it's a pretty ugly message it's selling, when all is said and done.
I don't want to completely trash the film, as there are, as I've said, more than a few good points in its favour, but it sure leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
The allure of easy money sends Mary into the world of underground surgeries which ends up leaving more marks on her......... than on her so called freakish clients......
The Soska twins/sisters/whatever, try and give us a movie that will shock and make us think, but look underneath all the freakish abnormalities and the parlour tricks, it's basically another 'all men are b***ards' and girl power is forever.
And this is why the movie fails on many levels. Its not the casts fault, Isabelle is a wonderful screen presence, and next to Danielle Harris, she is the second best female working in horror today.
It all has a retro punk nineties feel to it, almost like Hardware or even The Crow, and this gives the film a little seedy feel to it.
It's a gory film, and the men are portrayed as pigs with no brains, but the most disturbing thing I found to be was the Betty Boop faced 'associate', and this was a work of genius, probably the best factor of the film.
If you have just finished with your boyfriend, and hate men at the moment, you will probably love this, if not, it's nothing really new, apart from some good make up and a great performance from Isabelle.
A little offensive, not all males are pigs..
Mary's reputation as an unscrupulous medical genius for hire soon reaches the ears of stripper Beatress Johnson, part of the on-line body modification community, who pays her $10,000 to perform an unorthodox operation on her friend Ruby. Mary's improved financial status doesn't go unnoticed by her instructor Dr. Grant (David Lovgren), who surmises that his star pupil is on the game, and that it would be perfectly OK if he got himself a freebie. Drugging and raping her at a party proves to be a bad idea, however, for Mary isn't about to take that sort of thing lying down (OK, she does take it lying down, but you know what I mean).
With a little help from her strip-club owner pal Billy (Antonio Cupo), Mary exacts bloody revenge, but seems to lose most of her marbles in the process...
As you can probably tell, American Mary, directed by twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska, is a rather preposterous tale, one that frequently borders on the ridiculous in its desire to be as demented as possible; as such it is difficult to be absolutely certain of the filmmakers' intentions. Is this supposed to be a serious, tragic body-shock horror experience in the vein of fellow Canadian auteur Cronenberg (whose film Dead Ringers gets a visual reference) or a sly parody of the genre with split tongue planted in pierced cheek?
Whatever the case, American Mary is certainly a consistently entertaining experience thanks to its provocative 'body modification' subject matter, excellent in-your-face gore, and Isabelle's bold central performance.
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. Watch it if you can
We open on an extreme closeup shot of lovely Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle) in her kitchen, sewing a turkey with careful precision. It isn't Thanksgiving, though, and there are no guests arriving. She's just practicing her surgery skills as a budding med student. But when professional relationships run afoul, fowl just isn't an adequate substitute for the real thing. And just when you think you know where the film is going, our hearts are touched by Mary's benevolent foray into a world few are aware of. So begins the occasionally chilling, often twisted odyssey of "American Mary."
There's much praise to go around for this talented ensemble cast but, more than anyone, it's the exquisite Katherine Isabelle who brings the Soskas' script to life. Isabelle so inhabits Mary that she creates a totally original, unique character that raises the bar for all the actors around her. The reversal of roles in this narrative is clever and crafty. To be more specific would reveal too much. Things are not as they seem as stereotypes are shattered at every step of the way.
The look of "American Mary" is a study in the almost-forgotten techniques of creative filmmaking. Single point lighting is used liberally, as Mary moves in and out of the shadows of the strange new world she's created. More than in most modern films, the color palette is central to subliminal psychological changes transmitted to the viewer. Black, the color of death, and red, the color of love (and blood), dominate in key scenes and trigger subtle emotional cues that slyly blend in with the milieu.
Peter Allen's original score magnificently balances contrapuntally with the gruesome on screen action. Lush classical strains underscore unimaginable real-life horrors. We're watching a ballet of death. The more terrifying the images, the more charming and delightful is the opera in our heads. The beauty of the soundtrack belies the ugliness beneath.
"American Mary" boasts some of the most stunning camera-work of the festival. Cinematographer Brian Pearson exhibits such passion for the material that every frame is like a painting. Editor Bruce MacKinnon allows the film to proceed patiently, another departure from the typical genre production. Locations are like characters unto themselves, and the set design reflects that with tremendous attention to detail that allows the photography and music to work together with the backdrop to help propel the story.
This is true art, rarely seen in cinema today. It's a slightly more civilized, 21st century take on torture porn with high production values and a killer narrative but there's much more here than meets the eye. Yes, it's hard to watch at times, but those who appreciate movies the way they used to be made won't want to turn away. In "American Mary" we gorily discover that hell hath no fury like a female surgeon scorned.
I WISH MOVIES LIKE THIS HAD A WARNING!
Don't get me wrong I like horror movies. I can even watch gore... Texas Chainsaw... Evil Dead (2013)... But movies like this break my heart that people find this entertaining.
I gave it 2 stars for the outfits but the movie is fundamentally stupid... no struggle to overcome... no suspense... no fear... no likable characters... no plot... no story...
What did i just watch...?
The synopsis gave the impression of an interesting movie, such promise was annihilated from minute one. Surely there are better actors who could be cast for such a film than the collection of clowns used in this production.
The kindest thing that could be said about the lead actress is that she at least has the ability to read. The remainder of the cast were of equal talent and thus no one looked out of place in this travesty.
I must confess that I was unable to endure the film in its entirety, 15 minutes was punishment enough.
Universal Pictures has recently acquired distribution for the film, which has been causing delight amongst festival audiences all year, and has scheduled a limited UK/Ireland theatrical release to coincide with the DVD / BLU RAY launch which will take place on January 21st.
I have been fortunate enough to attend two screenings of the movie so far this year and so what can the uninitiated expect from the unexpected sensation of 2012?
The story centres around a young, gifted medical student named Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) who, whilst being exceptionally capable, is suffering from extraneous pressures caused by financial and personal difficulties. This, inevitably, affects her ability to devote her full and undivided attention to her studies. Her fragmented academic performance does not go unnoticed by her tutor, who curtly reprimands her, threatening her exclusion from the class lest she falter once again.
The strain builds and Mary is forced to look into new potential methods of financially supporting herself. Without giving too much away, her investigations lead her further from the conventional world of surgery and deeper into the underground realm of extreme body modification.
The reason that I am choosing not to divulge more of the story is that American Mary manages to be one of the few horror movies which I have watched this year that genuinely had me guessing as to what would happen next. The Soskas manage to veer away from almost every pitfall and stereotype that mars so many genre features.
What I found particularly effective was their definition of character. This was present, not only in the gender roles which were beautifully constructed, but in the very idea of our own personal perception. The unforgettable Beatress Johnson (Tristan Risk) is without a doubt one of the strongest on screen presences in the movie, the pathos which she creates elicits is reminiscent of Tod Browning's 'Freaks'. Indeed, just as Browning portrayed 'regular' society as beastly and cruel whilst simultaneously highlighting the sense of camaraderie and familial ties which existed amongst his outcasts, Jen and Sylvia Soska examine similar themes.
There is strength to the female characters in the movie which manages to remain both honest and believable. They are neither over-exaggerated butch heroines, nor are they whimpering slasher fodder. They are well constructed, authentic characters with depth that combines faults and strengths in a testament to the writing skills of the twins.
Tension is built throughout and plays alongside a growing air of intrigue and suspense, the like of which is very unique to this movie.
American Mary is a blood soaked dreamscape which completely immerses to the extent that the running time simply flashes by. There is so much that remains to be said on the subject. This is not only an exceptionally well made horror film, this is a turning point.
Colin McCracken also writes extensively at his website zombiehamster.com and can be found on Twitter as @zombiehamster