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John’s Horror Corner: American Mary (2012)

August 16, 2013

MY CALL:  I wasn’t thrilled with this film, but I remain very interested to see what the Soska sisters do next.  Horror has plenty of remakes and recycled concepts.  So I was happy to see this film for a nice change of pace and style.  Fans of body modification should enjoy this for what it is.  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCH:  Celebrate more exploitative female empowerment with Boys Against Girls (2012) and Bitch Slap (2009).

The scoring does a fine job enhancing the politely visceral tone as we first meet medical student Mary (Katharine Isabelle; Ginger Snaps, Freddy vs Jason, Being Human) practicing her incision and suturing skills on a store bought turkey.  Talented, but finding herself in a difficult financial situation, Mary lets a club owner hire her to play “mob doctor” for cash.  This slowly begins to resculpt Mary’s moral compass, transforming her from almost naively innocent to readily corruptible.

Shortly thereafter, we meet the surgically distorted Beatress (Tristan Risk; Darkest Hour), a cartoonishly weird character who pulls Mary deeper into her illegal medical practice.  Beatress and her friends are interested in elective surgeries that are refused by doctors because of their extremity.  As Mary accommodates these taboo surgical desires, she herself desires more novel modifications to stimulate herself.  This swings into body modifications beyond what you’d find leafing through the latest issue of Taboo magazine and she even uses her unique niche skill set to exact revenge on those who have wronged her as she climbs her way into underground subcultural fame.

Needless to say, it’s hard to write about this movie without ruining the surprises within.

The acting falls short of the highly effective tone, the dialogue falls even shorter.  It’s disappointing.  I really wanted to take these characters seriously but I found it impossible.  I was especially irked by the attempts to depict entitled, egomaniacal surgeons.  It was as if someone started the background of a masterpiece with this especially taboo tone, scored and set so well with an underutilized premise, but then filled the foreground with poor writing and stale delivery.  I thought Katherine Isabelle did VERY well in Ginger Snaps and her small role in Being Human, but now I’m left to wonder if this rigid performance was the fault of her direction or her own acting.  I’d prefer to blame the direction, which failed to impress on several other accounts as well.  And Katherine was not outperformed by any other members of the cast.

This film was written and directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska. They haven’t done much and I felt that it showed.  The inclusion of elective genital modification surgery, rape and surgery addicts felt forced.  These concepts are naturally shocking on their own; they don’t need to be over-sold.  I really wanted to believe that this was meant to be more than another pervy exploitative shock flick.  But once I saw how Jen and Sylvia Soska wrote themselves into the movie with over-the-top body modification extremists, it was apparent that they were more concerned with celebrating body modification than they were with telling an interesting story.  They may have been passionate about this film.  But it strikes me that they never considered how others would view the film without living life through the lens of their subculture.

Meet the Soska sisters.

This review comes with its share of negative criticism, but I’m also very interested to see what else the Soska sisters can do and what kinds of projects they’ll pursue.  Horror has plenty of remakes and recycled concepts.  So I was happy to see this film for a nice change of pace and style.


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