American Mary – 7
Director – Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Cast – Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, David Lovgren, Paula Lindberg, Clay St. Thomas, John Emmet Tracy, Twan Holliday
Release Year – 2013
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Horror films involving the medical field have been around for decades (Re-Animator anyone?) but even so they have always been a rarity for the genre. Some recent ones have been good (Anatomy) while others have been bad (Pathology, Awake), and thankfully you can add American Mary to the list of good medical-themed horror films. Starring my teenage crush Katherine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, Freddy vs. Jason), we follow Mary mason, a medical student whose increasing debt and disenchantment with the surgical field she once admired has left her desperate for a break…and then an offer arrives. With the allure of easy money standing before her, Mary involves herself in a series of underground procedures involving abnormal body modifications – modifications that not only leave a lasting effect on the patient, but Mary herself.
This effort comes written and directed by two sisters, yes FEMALE filmmakers :applause:, and they did a darn good job with this being their first full-length film. The experience begins without much horror involved, with us following Mary as she stumbles her way through medical school thanks to ever-growing debt and an asshole professor. We see how Mary is initially a good person who seems to have hit a rough spot with her finances, and this forces her to start lying and deceiving bill collectors and her own mother in her attempt to keep as much of her public dignity as she can. Sure enough, the need for more money gets the best of her and she decides to try her hand at stripping, and that is when she meets strip club owner Billy Barker. Billy sees much potential in the ridiculously hot and natural-looking Mary, but he has a more fitting job for her – one that will require her surgical skills and pay an easy $5,000. Mary is appalled by what she has just done, but it opens her eyes to how easy it would be to make good money on the down-low, and then she takes on an aesthetic surgery job that will change her life forever. Word begins to spread and her client list grows, but this does not come with a few bumps in the road that require her to use her skills in a way that will not allow the person to see another day.
It was great watching Mary decline from a aspiring surgeon to an underground “black market” surgeon who specializes in body modification, and I am not talking about simple piercings. While her career descent is part of the horror, the true horror of American Mary lies in what Mary must do to keep her business afloat. She exacts incredible vengeance on one unlucky soul who some will say “had it coming”, with the rest of her atrocities coming from paying customers who feel evolution stiffed them from the bodies they desire. The Soska sisters write in good horror and a few shocking scenes here and there, and it is not the kill sequences that shock the viewer but the way that Mary toys and slowly dismembers her victims that leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. Despite the positive kill and brutality sequences their story is ultimately more about how Mary changed (for the worst?) in her pursuit of happiness, and not the crimes themselves.
The Soska’s execute their story very well direction-wise, giving us good atmosphere and engaging sets to keep the viewer entertained even during the film’s slower scenes. Katherine Isabelle was fantastic in this role, one that easily suited her acting style and brought her back into the horror spotlight after not starring in a horror film for 8 years, with Ginger Snaps: The Beginning as her last starring role (both horror and non-horror). The acting performances of all the actors involved were positive, showing that the Soska sisters can execute actors very well. Their execution of the horror was really enjoyable and the horror was oftentimes very shocking in its nature. We are shown some grotesque scenes that do not give a full-frontal approach to the gore but instead show is the after-effect, which I surprisingly found even more haunting.
Overall, American Mary is a horrific experience that positively brings the medical field to the horror genre. I have not seen a film like this, with a promising surgeon making money on the black market, and I applaud its originality. Also deserving applause is the Soska sisters’ ability to write and direct their horror in a simple and hard-hitting fashion, leaving me with an experience I suggest you become a part of.