American Mary

American Mary (2012)

American Mary first published by Film4 (for a different review, see here)

Synopsis: Canadian twins Jen and Sylvia Soska write and direct this tale of surgery and revenge, starring Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps).

Review: “Surgeons don’t have the luxury of being sorry”.

So Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) is told by Dr Grant (David Lougren) after her mobile phone interrupts his lecture. In fact Mary is a hard-working medical student, determined to fulfil her migrant Nana’s hopes for a better life in the US. Yet as debts, glass ceilings and horrendous abuse turn her American dream into a nightmare, Mary finds opportunities – for both work and revenge – in the body modification community, and is soon surgically altering her aspirations while taking Dr Grant’s lesson to heart.  

As a tale of female empowerment in a male-dominated world, American Mary is practically a parable of the attempts by Canadian writer/directors Jen and Sylvia Soska to break into Hollywood  – before finally finding their niche in the underground horror community.  The Soska twins’ second feature is a vast improvement on their grindhouse-aping debut Dead Hooker In A Trunk in terms of its writing, production values and performances – especially from Isabelle (previously best known for the lycanthropic Ginger Snaps trilogy), whose Mary is all at once tragic victim and terrifying ‘slasher’.    

Matching what Mary does to a turkey – that great signifier of both American ritual and B-movie transgessiveness – in the film’s opening sequence, American Mary carves up the values of the America mainstream before stitching them back together again, exposing not only the freakish deviancies to be found at the centre, but also the relative normality at the margins. The Soskas pull off the trick of getting us simultaneously to root for the sideshow attractions and to shrink from the gatekeepers of supposed decency – while, caught somewhere in between, Mary herself becomes a Frankenstein’s monster of self-realisation, with the sutures ultimately showing.  

Verdict: The Soskas’ surgical strike against the norms of the American dream is intelligent, affecting underground horror (with a feminist twist) that appeals to the outsider in all of us.

Anton Bitel