American Mary (2012)
Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska
Before I begin this review, I think I have to let you know about how I got acquainted with the Soska Sisters. I found their trailer for Dead Hooker in a Trunk, thought it was cool and blogged about it. Little did I know they'd write me back, send me a screener and an awesome personalized note to boot and then down the road to top it all off, they put my quote from my review in one of their trailers.
That sort of thing doesn't happen to me very often.
The coolness factor of that exchange aside, it's pretty awesome to have that sort of relationship with filmmakers. A simple tweet to a fan can make their day. Oddly enough after I finished watching the NYC premiere of American Mary at the Film Society at Lincoln Center, I'd get a special tweet.
American Mary is without a doubt one of the best movies of 2012. It is a dissection into the world of body modification that takes a wrong, dreadful turn for the worst. Full of long lasting scenes of female empowerment taken to the limits, it is by far the most powerful, stylized and slickest look into one woman's journey from hopeful optimism to a revenge served cold despotism. The Soska Sisters have created a horror film that is light years ahead of their previous effort. With American Mary, they give us a Joss Whedon like character study into Mary (Katharine Isabelle), who we will see grow up and find her place in the world after experiencing severe trauma.
Never have I seen a movie that delves into this subculture, treats it respectfully and slices in a perfect horror movie inside. I guarantee American Mary will etch it's way into cult status. It's perfect blend of sly black humor, absurd and eerie characters and torturous scenes of pain and agony that equal a milkshake of cult awesomeness.
Horror movies have just grown up in a big way thanks to American Mary.
The story follows medical student, Mary Mason, as she becomes increasingly broke and disenchanted with the surgical world she once admired. The allure of easy money sends Mary into the world of underground surgeries which ends up leaving more marks on her than her so called 'freakish' clientele.
Mary (Katharine Isabelle) is a medical student studying to become a surgeon. Simple enough right? We tag along with Mary as she deals with everyday problems like how to pay your bills when your broke, taking shit from teachers and doing shady shit to make ends meet. Soon our sweet Mary is forced to look for work through a faux Craiglist and in the seedy part of town. She meets strip club owner Billy (Antonio Cupo) who begins a weird subplot infatuation with her complete with Mary erotica dream sequences.
When her talents as a surgeon are used for some impromptu mob doctor-ish activities, the referrals start for her talents. She then meets Beatress (Tristan Risk), whose full on Betty Boop lookalike face and voice performance (complete with the cosmetic surgery) is by far a turn for the surreal. As she discovers the world of body modification subculture, aghast previously, it soon becomes very appetizing when a night out with the senior surgeons goes all Thriller A Cruel Picture, Mary goes into a very dark place and we see her go Darth Vader in a way that equals the best performance of the year.
Katharine Isabelle is super duper fantastic as Mary. Her transformation from super smart and caring student to a full blooded vixen is magnificent. Aside from being easy on the eyes, she can enhance a scene by her look which juxtaposes what the title infers. The American Mary is a modifier of the ideal of beauty through extreme means and it is definitely not uncommon in our plastic surgery, botox, drive thru website world. Isabelle's metamorphosis is slow and steady. From her clothing, to her makeup to her teetering morality, her performance clearly was so fuckin awesome to watch. She's been gathering awards through the many film festivals American Mary and it's well deserved.
Risk's performance is stunning to watch. The outstanding Boop makeup hides a beautiful actress and thus focuses us on seeing this live action cartoon character create a personality that is devilishly odd yet mesmerizing to watch. Cuno plays creepazoid Billy with some deep yearnings of something other than the life he leads and Twan Holliday as Lance, security bouncer extraordinaire somehow gives the film a bit of heart.
One can't talk about American Mary without mentioning the NON-CGI effects they employed. Special effects guru Todd Masters uses stellar prosthetics and old school blood techniques to get us some ample splatter and gore. The Soska's seem adept at giving us cringe worthy scenes that have a Kubrick-esque element to them such as when Mary goes all Kill Bill on her "victims". With some clever camera work, I have never seen such pure torture scenes become still photos worthy of a place in the MOMA. The Soska's
The ending is clearly hinted at as Mary's transformation from poor medical student to famous body modification artist to the stars. You can see what's to come, see the evil that she's done but somehow still want her to win. It's a testament to the Soska's to create such a character that the audience wants to root for, a Dexter like ability is hard to pull off.
Weird subplots involving Billy's wet dreams and a cop on the trail of a murder creep there way in. This isn't Law and Order and take away from the characters we really want to know more about. The dialogue is filled with rough around the edges film noir 'logue, but can be forgiven if we are to succumb to the oddities in a bizarro world where Dick Tracy is the staple for all police models. I would have loved to have the Soska's add more scenes of Mary and Beatress and Ruby (Paula Lindberg) who's surgery Mary performs turns her into a real life Barbie. Body modification culture is mostly unheard of subject in film (especially in horror movies) and exploring this world with our Mary would have been infinite more rewarding than a cop investigation or sleazy Billy's bar drama.
With all that said, American Mary makes up for it scene after scene of pure melodramatic WTF (which to me is a good thing). It's in a weird in between world of The Human Centipede and Hostel. The Soska's are fans of Eli Roth and you can sense the torturous creations they've created are a wink to him. But what is all the Soska's is American Mary's twisted vision of revenge, a glimpse into a culture even the most hardcore horror fans may be freaked about and create a film with surgical precision that has all it's elements ticking like fuckin clockwork.
American Mary is 100 minutes of femme fatale awesomeness the indie horror circuit hasn't seen in a while. New, fresh and innovative are words that will be tossed around to describe it. But for me, American Mary can be described as passion. The Soska's embrace the twisted tales the horror genre can deliver to an audience. It's an evolution by filmmakers who are in the genre because they love horror, not because they want to make a quick buck.
We need more talented filmmakers like the Twisted Twins and we need more movies like American Mary. And we need horror fans to support both.
Surgery and strip club boobies
Serious body art modification
Torture meets torture scenes
Blood soaked splatter
First time we meet Lucy
The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis
Rarely does one get a super cool tweet from the Soska's right after I see their movie, but I did. American Mary is on the film festival circuit but was picked up Universal International for worldwide distribution. Also Anchor Bay will distribute in Canada. US distribution I'm sure is coming soon.
If you want to get started on Soska Sisters 101, pick up Dead Hoooker in a Trunk, read my review, watch one of their shorts, Like them on Facebook and follow their Twitter.
Then you'll be ready for what's to come in American Mary.
Check out the trailer below.