Directors: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, David Lovgren, Paula Lindberg
Running time: 103 Minutes
Synopsis: Medical student Mary is broke and becomes increasingly disenchanted with the medical profession. 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…
The gorgeous GINGER SNAPS herself, Katharine Isabelle, headlines this David Cronenberg/Takashi Miike-inspired body (modification) horror from equally-stunning ‘Twisted Twins’ Jen and Sylvia Soska, who previously helmed 2009’s exploitation thriller DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. I have to admit to having not yet seen their previous OTT-titled offering, but after this effort, it goes to the top of my list, because AMERICAN MARY is superb, twisted brilliance. In fact, mentioning both Cronenberg and Miike may be a touch unjust, as the unique, rising-star siblings have spun a tale that is wholly original; however, like many of those legends’ movies, it’s firmly planted in the ‘what-the-fuck’ genre!
The film begins with Isabelle’s passionate medical student Mary, struggling with the finances, and sometimes the dedication to keep up with her dream profession. After much deliberation, she decides to use those damn good looks to earn a little extra money to pay those mounting bills. An interview at the local sleazy strip club offers up a chance encounter to make use of her ever-improving surgical skills, which leads her on a dark, tormented journey of self-discovery.
There’s a harsh tone throughout the film which makes for sometimes uncomfortable viewing but, I must add, also gives AMERICAN MARY a fascinating edge. With an obvious sweetness to her lead character (as well as a number of supporting individuals), Isabelle is outstanding as our often misguided, misunderstood (anti) heroine, even during the film’s most torturous moments (yes, in both senses). There’s an audacious absurdity and charm which makes the early exchanges in the film a whole lot of playful fun. She brings enough benevolence to someone so focused on a career path, before ultimately embracing her ‘other self’.
The filmmaking sisters also make a memorable (if exaggerated) appearance in their own film, who along with each supporting character, appear to have a richness to their development. Hell, even Antonio Cupo’s seedy nightclub owner – who in so many other films would be portrayed as a two-dimensional love interest – is fleshed out as a complex, conflicted personality dealing with his own inner demons. He proves to be more than just the standard meathead as his relationship with Mary (even with her ever-increasing flaws) intensifies. He too gives an awesome performance.
The film will divide and cause much discussion, which is what all good films should do. It will test viewers’ limits, and possibly push their boundaries. Yet, as grotesque as it sometimes gets, it never goes too far in terms of gore and bloodshed, proving you don’t always need to disgust to get an audience reaction. Many of those scenes are cleverly suggested (much the same way as David Slade’s HARD CANDY) and plants a seed that crawls under the skin at the freakish nature/culture of what some people find strange, ‘not-of-the-norm’… or just plain fucked-up.
There is also an underlying debate of whether Mary and the transformation she eventually makes was always gestating inside her, fighting to get out… or rather the product of one particularly traumatic incident, colliding with her new found curiosity and the ambience of her new ‘friends’. AMERICAN MARY is thought-provoking stuff and will live long with you, well after its intense conclusion. On this evidence, I can’t wait to see what the Sosko Sisters have in the store in the future, and both Katharine Isabelle and Antonio Cupo deserve even greater success on the back of this.