BBFC Classification: 18
Directors: Jen & Sylvia Soska
Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, Paula Lindberg, John Emmet Tracy, Travis Watters, David Lovgren
Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle – Ginger Snaps/Freddy vs. Jason) is a medical student studying to be a surgeon. Struggling to make ends meet she applies for a job working as a masseuse at a seedy strip joint owned by the equally seedy Billy (Antonio Cupo), but as she is being interviewed Billy calls upon her surgical services to help patch up one of the club’s clients and rewards her with $5000 in cash.
Soon after, Mary is visited by the slightly odd Beatrice (Tristan Risk), who offers to pay Mary a vast sum of cash to perform an unusual body modification on a friend, which Mary reluctantly does. As word gets around Mary begins to get offers to perform all sorts of bizarre operations, but she also gets the attention of her tutor Dr. Grant (David Lovgren) who begins a chain of events with Mary that forces her to use her skills against those she trusted as she turns her back on regular surgery in favour of making her tormentors suffer.
Anybody familiar with the off-kilter horrors of films like Parents or Bad Biology, or even the more recent character piece Killer Joe, will find a lot to like in American Mary as the film comes out of left-field at you with its off-beat humour and bloody violence. Naturally, Canadian films tagged as ‘body-horror’ will always draw a comparison to the works of David Cronenberg and American Mary is no different, although where Cronenberg would show you the surgical procedures in full widescreen glory, writer/director team The Soska Sisters are a little more restrained, giving you just enough of what you think is going to happen and then leaving it up to your imagination to finish the image off. That’s not to say that they hold back at all, because there is plenty of scalpel action going on to make you shift uneasily in your seat, but why spoil the tension that you’ve already built up in your head by throwing severed body parts at the screen to the point that it becomes a joke?
Because despite The Soska Sisters having made a film with the title Dead Hooker in a Trunk and the black humour that permeates American Mary, this film is far from a joke and in a just world it would be getting some recognition from various quarters for being well made, original and, most notably, for a stand out performance from Katherine Isabelle, who carries the film totally.
But despite all the good things about this film there are a couple of flaws. Running for nearly an hour-and-three-quarters the film doesn’t sustain the same even pace all the way through, particularly going into the final act where there seems to be a real slump in the momentum. Which leads into the other flaw, namely the ending which seems to be a bit of a let down after building up so many plot threads. It’s not enough to spoil the film but the final scenes just seemed to be a little unsatisfactory when it could have gone in so many other directions.
Overall though, American Mary manages to do the one thing that so many films try to do and ultimately fail at and that is be original. Touching on so many different genre traits but never fully embracing any of them, The Soska Sisters seemed to have made upped their game and have made a film that’ll be referenced as a benchmark in years to come. It isn’t without its faults but the quality of the production and the obvious passion with which it was made far outweigh the pacing problems, and as far as performances go Katherine Isabelle’s is going to be a tough act to beat. A potential modern classic? Maybe, maybe not, but American Mary will certainly be mentioned in the same breath as the best and most iconic horror films from the 21st century so far, and that’s not a bad achievement this early into a promising career for The Soska Sisters.
Special Features: Behind the Scenes featurette, An American Mary in London – Film4 Frightfest featurette.
UK Release Date: 21st January 2013