American Mary (3 stars)

American Mary

A shocking, memorable body horror, let down by a weak third act

American Mary marks the second feature-length film by Jen and Sylvia Soska, following Dead Hooker In A Trunk (a film that began life as a faux trailer – inspired by the Tarantino/Rodriguez project Grindhouse). Like the twisted sister of an early David Cronenberg movie, American Mary is a step up. Part horror, part satire, it features a show-stopping performance from Katharine Isabelle, the Canadian actress who, twelve years back, starred in lupine/puberty teen tale Ginger Snaps.

Here, she plays Mary Mason, an ambitious young surgeon struggling with student debts who gets drawn into the bizarre (but very real) sub-culture of body-modification. Dubbed ‘Bloody Mary’, she becomes a celebrated practitioner of these idiosyncratic operations (one client, for example, demands her vagina sewn up). But the story takes a vicious twist when Mary is invited to a party hosted by various academics at her medical school. Drugged, then raped by her tutor, she goes on a revenge mission that puts to use her unique surgery skills.

Boasting some shocking, stomach-churning imagery, the Soska twins (who also feature in a brief cameo as two of Mary’s more extreme clients) undeniably have created a memorable work, one that toys with the idea of our ever-increasing desire for American Dream-like perfection. Leading the way, Isabelle is a dominant force too, as sexy as she is scary, with an assured performance of both control and cunning.

But the problem with American Mary – aside from some pretty atrocious B-movie acting from the support cast – is that it lacks a compelling third act. As Mary unravels, so does the screenplay, uncertain of where to take this story once its lead loses the plot. It’s a shame, for this may have been a cult classic in the making, rather than a marginal horror that never sews up what it so impressively started.

American Mary -- Official UK Trailer

American Mary

  • 3 stars
  • 2012
  • US, Canada
  • 1h 40min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
  • Written by: Sylvia Soska, Jen Soska
  • Cast: Katherine Isabelle, Julia Maxwell, Antonio Cupo
  • UK release: 11 January 2013

Medical student Mary Mason (Isabelle) is losing money fast and becoming increasingly disenchanted with the dream of becoming a surgeon. Desperate for easy money she delves into the world of underground surgeries which ends up leaving more marks on her than it does on her so called clientèle.