Come on in, the water's malleable...
AMERICAN MARY (2012)
Dir. Jen and Sylvia Soska, Canada, 103 mins
A film that's probably been long overdue a review, American Mary emerged in 2012 and announced the arrival of the Soska sisters to the directorial scene in a big way. This one all came about whilst the Soskas were trying to sell what would be their debut film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, and was a movie that came together in a remarkably quick time – shot over a period of just 15 days, getting this film made at all was an achievement in itself.
The titular lead of the movie, Mary, is a medical student whose debts are piling up. She's looking for a part-time job, and a trip to a shady nightclub leads to her performing an impromptu operation on one of the owner's friends – for $5000 cash, no questions asked. It's from here that her life takes a couple of very unexpected turns – first off, this operation leads to her becoming a sort of underground surgeon and something of a cult figure among the body modification scene after making someone into a real-life Barbie doll. It's the money rather than any belief or morality that leads her to this situation – in fact she's hugely dubious of the whole scenario. Secondly, at a party thrown by her surgical placement superior, she is drugged and raped. It's unfortunately all too familiar territory in extreme horror, and the scene itself is pretty unpleasant if not as horrible as some others I've seen – Gutterballs especially springs to mind. And she certainly doesn't hang around with her revenge, hiring that shady club owner to kidnap and bring in the professor who attacked her. Those medical skills will come in extremely useful there too, as she embarks upon 14 hours of surgery. And she keeps her masterwork alive to continue torturing him as time goes on...
In the meantime, her body modification business begins to grow and she starts to run a clinic out of her apartment as her reputation in the field grows. With larger and more elaborate operations to perform, and greater success, she becomes something of a celebrity in the field. The operation scenes themselves are presented in accurate detail – or at least so it looks to a layman like me – without being gratuitous. The darker side of the story develops as the police grow curious about the mysterious disappearance of her abuser, a less than human test subject to Mary's eyes.
It's an interesting movie to look back on, in many respects, because at the time it was so lauded – the fanfare for this one in the more underground horror scene was notable upon its release, and there was plenty of hype coming up to my first viewing a couple of years back. While there are still elements here that I like – Katherine Isabelle's depiction of Mary's descent into darkness is well-delivered, and the world of body modification is a fascinating subject area – many of the cast were not professional actors but enthusiasts of the art. With that said, the pacing in places is a bit clumsy, particularly in the finale, and the rape revenge element and subsequent police investigation don't really go anywhere, giving way to a sort of noir love story laced with bizarre surgery. It's not really all that shocking when you look back – nothing much is presented in serious detail, and Mary's frosty exterior never breaks to offer the true kind of sympathy that she should have as a character who has been through such an ordeal.
For all those reasons, it's going to be a 6.5/10 all told – the movie is perfectly watchable, and offers a number of interesting scenes, but perhaps isn't quite worthy of the lofty status it had upon release. If you haven't seen it yet, it's worth checking out, but probably only as a one-time watch.
Coming Soon : Film Gutter Volume 1