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.