American Mary (2012)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #176

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 27, 2012 (London FrightFest Film Festival), 11 January 2013 (UK)
Sub-Genre: Body Horror
Country of Origin: Canada
Running Time: 103 minutes
Directors: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Producers: Evan Tylor, John A. Curtis
Screenplay: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Special Effects: Jeny Cassady: MastersFX
Cinematography: Brian Pearson
Score: Peter Allen
Editing: Bruce MacKinnon
Studios: IndustryWorks Pictures, American Mary Productions, Evolution Pictures, 430 Productions, Twisted Twins Productions
Distributors: XLrator Media, Anchor Bay Entertainment, IndustryWorks Pictures
Stars: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, David Lovgren, as Dr. Grant, Paula Lindberg, Julia Maxwell, Clay St. Thomas, Nelson Wong, Marius Soska, John Emmet Tracy, Twan Holiday, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska, Travis Watters, Paul Anthony, Natasha Forry, Amus Osaurus, Garrett Girad, Agnes Soska

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Suggested Audio Anesthetic

Luisa Pepe “My Suicide”

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The potential of cinema is vast. It is there not only to entertain, thrill and chill but also simultaneously to inform, to challenge pre-conceptions and to open our minds to topics ordinarily not considered. One such topic is body modification, considered very much taboo by many and misunderstood largely, society largely discounts its participants as unhinged reprobates with whole laundry list of unresolved issues. Whilst for some this may well not be accurate, it is these grey areas which American Mary looks to explore.

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Twisted Twins Jen and Sylvia Soska first broke onto the scene with their low-budget 2009 exploitation flick Dead Hookers in A Trunk and its successor treads an entirely different path from the precursor. There is nothing lo-fi about American Mary and that is proved within the very first scene which uses Ave Maria to introduce our femme fatale to profound effect. Production values are much higher this time round and the Soska Twins’ feature is slickly presented, clinical even.

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It charts the trajectory of Mary Mason, a gifted young surgeon-in-training who is crippled by her student loan and has run into a spot of financial strife. Struggling to make ends meet, she turns to the world of adult-orientated entertainment in an attempt at balancing her books. After an unforeseen turn of events, Mary discovers the underground fascination towards body modification and is seduced by the allure of quick cash payments, plus the kick she receives from re-inventing herself.

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The Soskas first hit pay-dirt by enlisting home-grown Katherine Isabelle who impressed in superior 2000 were-woman flick Ginger Snaps. Whilst remaining active in the industry after her breakout leading role and popping up in 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason, Katherine never really received the treatment she deserved in horror and this could well be the performance which finally makes her. She simply dazzles as young woman torn in a role not dissimilar to that of Ginger and here she has to deal with being scorned too, something which she effortlessly and shatteringly conveys.

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If you were considering that nip or tuck, then ten minutes in the company of the people we entrust with our safe-keeping may well dissuade you. They are loathsome protagonists here, potty-mouthed date-raping fiends who revel a little too freely in the spatter of blood and treat women as almost non-objects. This may well not be an accurate portrayal but their objectionable actions assist in encouraging an empathetic standpoint towards Mary when faced with her cold-as-ice approach later in the picture.

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She is introduced to all manner of flamboyant characters and learns their quirks off to pat. Tristan Risk’s turn as Betty Boop fanatic Beatress is outstanding and scenes between the two are an absolute joy to witness but it is her relationship with male characters which fascinates most. In particular, her chemistry with nightclub owner-cum-heavy Billy (Antonio Cupo) crackles and we gain insight into his own psychosexual perversions and unhealthily healthy obsession for Mary. A poignant scene with personal bodyguard Lance (Twan Holiday) shows glimpses of normalcy within the escalating madness and instances such as this are handled superbly by the sisters, whose foray into body horror will no doubt have alerted David Cronenberg.

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There is extraordinary restraint shown with regards to grue. Not to be misinterpreted as PG-13 or anything as this is hard R all the way but there are a number of occasions when they hold back and leave your imagination to wander. Whether this is a missed trick is entirely subjective but for Keeper they get it right on this count. If there is a coal dropped then I would be more inclined to suggest a later subplot regarding an impassioned boyfriend who takes exception to Mary’s technique, as guilty party. More could have been made of this and the final act comes across as slightly rushed as a result. This is a minor quibble as near-on everything else is handled majestically.

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Isabelle’s performance is the main contributing factor and she is pitch-perfect throughout. Her nonchalant deadpan delivery, particularly mirrored through her blank eyes, is flawless and she has a stream of venom running through her ventricles which occasionally bubbles to the surface. When it does, and this happens with regularity as the film draws on, she convinces us entirely of her authenticity. However, just as effective are her quieter scenes, her peepers burst to life then giving full access to her desperation. It is here where American Mary most represents the shattered American dream. Everything is cause and effect, and the Twisted Twins’ film works on this and multiple other facets.

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Brian Pearson’s sleek photography breathes oxygen into the sisters’ luxurious script and Peter Allen’s thoughtful score hints at the tragedy in the tale. There are slight shades of Carlito’s Way towards the end and parallels with the emotional connect towards a character who we are fully invested in and don’t desire to see fall to harm, despite her questionable actions. Profoundly moving despite flashes of its blackest heart, American Mary is well worth scrubbing for. You may want to postpone that tummy tuck for the foreseeable though.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Bloody Mary lives up to her name on this front, and there are numerous incisions and copious amounts of dismemberment to feast your peepers on. However, it isn’t the focus and the most excruciating acts are only spoke of. This is a conscious decision and a correct one also as not seeing one of her playthings having his teeth filed down or licker split doesn’t make us shudder any less.

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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  1. I enjoyed this, but expected much more gruesome, line-crossing scenes. As you put it, the Szoska’s exercised a great deal of “restraint.” I look forward to their next big project.

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