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American Mary (2012)

-Review by Nic Brown-


Desperation. The word tells a story all by itself. It implies the situation has reached a turning point and something must be done. Something that a person would not normally choose to do. Something that will have consequences beyond the immediate need. The ‘Twisted Twins’, Jen and Sylvia Soska, are two filmmakers who know how to take that idea and run with it in new and different ways. The pair co-wrote and co-directed “American Mary” a film that shows a dark and interesting path that desperation can lead to.


“American Mary” tells the story of Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle), a talented medical school student whose intelligence and drive mark her for a great career as a surgeon… if she can finish school. Mary’s financial situation is bad and getting worse as she spends her time trying figure out how she can pay the bills. The distraction caused by a lack of money puts her at odds with her instructors, especially Dr. Grant (David Lovgren), who seems to have a special interest in Mary.


Mary is extremely intelligent, but she sees no way that her medical skills can help her, so she decides to use her looks instead and goes to a local adult club for an audition. The club’s owner, Billy (Antonio Cupo), is warming up to her and appears ready to put her through the classic ‘casting couch’ interview process when his bouncer comes in and tells him one of his guys is hurt. Since many of Billy’s activities aren’t strictly legal, he can’t just take the guy to a hospital. Instead he turns to Mary and asks for help. At first she is reluctant. Practising medicine without a license could cost Mary her future, but $5000 in cash seems too good to pass up and Mary takes the job on condition that Billy tell no one.


Later, Mary is approached by Beatrice (Tristan Risk) one of the club’s dancers. Beatrice has a strange look about her, almost like she’s a living doll and it’s obvious she’s had more than one surgery to make her the way she is. Surprisingly enough, the woman wants Mary to help her friend Ruby. Ruby is a fashion designer who has the same, doll-like look as Beatrice. But Ruby wants to be freed of the distractions that her sexual appeal causes her, so she wants to become a living Barbie doll: beautiful, but non-sexual. Again Mary is reluctant, but the allure of the cash is too much. Soon Mary has her own side business doing body modifications for those who can afford her quality of work.


Dr. Grant notices Mary’s new found financial freedom and assumes that she’s selling herself, which leads him to invite her to a ‘surgeons party’ with many of his colleagues.  Mary is honored to be invited to such an exclusive event, but she soon falls victim to Grant as he reveals the only reason any women are invited to one of the parties.


Now Mary wants revenge and she’s in a unique position to have it, but what will she do with a man like Grant for whom killing is too good? Her new sideline offers a world of choices, and her underworld connections help her make whatever she can imagine come true. But as Mary goes further and further down the rabbit hole into the sub-culture of body modification, will she find a way out or will her work come back to haunt her in ways she never imagined?



Jen and Sylvia Soska’s film “American Mary” is a stunningly inventive film that takes modern ideas of horror and mixes them with Hitchcockian era filmmaking. It would have been easy for the sisters to go over the top with gore and blood just for the sake of shock value, but instead they keep much of the actual cutting off the screen. They show the results, often disturbing and unsettling in themselves, but they leave most of the violence to the imagination. They make Mary’s revenge scenes even more horrific as she describes what she will do without the audience having to watch each horrific act. That’s not to say there isn’t blood and gore. On the contrary, it is there. But unlike many modern horror films that throw it in ‘willy-nilly’ for the shock value, “American Mary” uses it as an integral part of the story.

Katherine Isabelle is wonderful in the role of Mary Mason, bringing the character to life emotionally. She comes across as intelligent, confident and most of all genuine. As the film progresses and Mary becomes more entwined in the subculture of the film, she grows to be a dark reflection of the world she’s entered, losing touch with her old life.  It’s also fun to see Jen and Sylvia appear in a small roll as a pair of twins who want to become closer and with Mary’s help they may get their wish and maybe a bit more.


“American Mary” is a perfect example of what talented filmmakers can do when they are allowed to step outside of the norm. As the over the top blockbusters from Hollywood show us time and again, it is easy for studios to throw money at ‘safe’ projects and to substitute effects for story. What these $100 million plus mega-movies often forget though is that the root of any film, horror, romance, action, or whatever, is the story. Jen and Sylvia Soska have shown they haven’t forgotten that, and we can only hope they continue to bring quality back to the screen. So check out Jen and Sylvia Soska’s “American Mary” - it’s a cut and a suture above the rest.



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