Saturday, 1 September 2012

American Mary Review

American Mary (2012)

Directors:  Jen and Sylvia Soska
Writers:  Jen and Sylvia Soska
Starring:  Katherine Isabelle, Tristan Risk, Julia Maxwell, Antonio Cupo, Paula Lindberg

The second feature from the Twisted Twins (otherwise known as identical twin writer/director team, Jen and Sylvia Soska), AMERICAN MARY is an enormous step up from their previous film, DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK and something of a modern horror masterpiece.

The film tells the story of Mary, a broke trainee surgeon who is gradually seduced into performing extreme body modification surgeries by the allure of easy money.  Katherine Isabelle (GINGER SNAPS) in the title role gives an astounding performance which requires her to take the character from a mostly normal young woman through to vengeance-seeking sadistic derangement.  Isablle crucially invests Mary with such personality and sympathy that even at her worst the audience is as much afraid for her as of her.  Her flashes of clarity during which she fears what attrocities she may commit next are subtly played and all the more heart-breaking for it.  She possess a sort of sensual stillness which somehow manages to be sexy, threatening and deeply tragic all at once.

Isabelle is of course ably supported by a very strong script full of wonderful characters.  The Soska sisters present us with an array of colourful grotesques who upon first meeting, appear deeply alien and threatening - an opinion which Mary herself clearly shares.  As she becomes more comfortable with this unfamiliar sub-culture, its denizens start to exhibit a humanity and kindness conspicuously absent from the 'normal' world.  Even the enormous bouncer/hired goon whose brutal services Mary occasionally requires displays an unexpected tenderness as he comforts her after a particularly traumatic incident.  The initially rather sinister Beatress (Tristan Risk), a stripper who has surgically altered herself to resemble the cartoon character Betty Boop, is gradually revealed to be a very sweet person who just seems a little lonely.  There are plenty more characters of varying strangeness and criminality but all of them are a great deal more than they at first seem.

Another strength of the script is the story itself.  Though it is clearly a movie in the horror genre it never resorts to familiar genre tropes or cliche.  It tells Mary's story in an organic way and the trajectory it takes her on never feels forced or uncomfortable in a narrative sense.  In a more visceral sense however there is plenty to feel uncomfortable about.  The gore and visual horror is not the focus so much as the truly horrifying idea of what is done to certain people within the film.  Some scenes are incredibly tense and squirm-inducing due to the sheer concept.  There is little more terrifying than the idea of being completely at the mercy of an insane and very very pissed off surgeon.  This film explores that idea to the very fullest with deeply disturbing results.  The boundaries of morality and what constitutes a 'fair revenge' are challenged constantly.

The film is also shot very beautifully and some real attention has gone into the production design.  The costumes are a real highlight and as Mary begins to embrace her dark her alter-ego more fully we see this change very visually in her clothing.  Even her surgical attire is fetishised and brilliantly striking.

American Mary is not a great horror film, it is simply a great film.  Sure, it has flaws just as any other film does - at times the plausibility of events becomes a little over-stretched and maybe the 'normal' side of society is not represented as generously as the alternative but these are minor points.  This is that rarest of things in modern cinema, a good story well told.

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