Sunday, 24 February 2013

American Mary

Title: American Mary
Director: Soska Sisters
Released: 2012
Staring: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, David Lovgren, Paula Lindberg, Clay St. Thomas, John Emmet Tracy, Twan Holiday, Paul Anthony

Plot: Mary (Isabelle), a medical student and aspiring surgeon finds herself increasingly more in debt and disenchanted with the surgical world she once aspired to be part of. However when a chance encounter provides her with an alternative use for her surgical skills as she now enters into the world of underground surgeries and body modification.

Review: Since the release of their 2009 debut “Dead Hooker In A Trunk” I have been keen to see how the Soska Sisters (Jen and Sylvia) would follow it up, especially with its unrestrained neo-grindhouse style certainly making it a hard film to follow up especially when it had such a frenzied energy to it. Still there was something clearly there which marked the Soska sisters out to myself as a talent worth watching and here it would seem that it was a hunch which paid off, as they return with a film which while less frenzied and more glossy looking than their debut only further marks them out as names worth watching, even more so when you consider how over populated the horror genre has become in recent years, with pretenders and questionable talent that it is actually refreshing to see that there are still genuinely original talents still working in the genre, something which is only driven home here.

Opening with Mary suturing a turkey,  a transfixed look of fascination on her face as she practises her surgical skills, while in the classroom room proving herself as the unquestioning protégé of her mentor Dr. Grant (Lovgren), whose own ethics are questionable to say the least, as he sends Mary to advise a patients family that they have suffered a heart attack, before sending her back out moments later to inform them that he is actually dead. This is of course before he revels his true colours during a date rape party held by several of the senior doctors at the hospital, in which they prey on the young female student doctors who have been unwittingly invited. This creepily haunting scene however is not about cheap shocks, but rather the catalyst for Marys journey to the dark side, as soon thanks to shady club owner Billy (Cupo) and stripper and Betty Boop lookalike Beatress she soon finds a whole new use for her surgical skills.
It is on this new path that we are soon introduced to a different kind of clientele whom Mary now chooses to operate on, as she ditches medical school for the underground surgical trade, with her clientele certainly coming with their own specialised requests from living doll Ruby who is keen to complete her doll transformation through to a pair of twins (played by the Soska sisters themselves) who want to swap arms with each other. Despite the increasingly bizarre demands of her clients, she never views any of them with distain of any kind of judgement, instead only seeing them as being the next challenge for her surgical skills and while she is initially thrown wide eyed and apprehensive into this underground world of body modification she soon quickly adjusts to what she sees and the requests of her clients so that eventually nothing fazes her, while the sole time she any repulsion is when a guy walks into her surgery and requests something as simple as a piercing.

Shot in mainly dark shades with a healthy dose of black humour in the right places, this film is very much in the same dark landscape which Clive Barker frequently lurks, yet the Soska sisters are seemingly just at home in this same setting which perfectly suits the tone of the film, especially as Mary becomes increasingly more involved in this underground world and her initial reservations melting away as she turns herself into a creature of gothic beauty. Needless to say despite being influenced this is still very much in the Soska’s vision much like so many of their other influences that are subtly referenced throughout.

Isabelle is perfectly cast in the role of Mary, who she seems to be channelling her inner Zooey Deschanel to play, which for myself only made her all the more appealing, while Isabelle who had already established her horror credentials with “Ginger Snaps” and “Ginger Snaps” unleashed (to name but two) is easily at home here, especially during the occasionally gooey surgical scenes, while once she fully evolves into her underground surgeon persona, she is like a shark both beautiful to watch as she operates in high heels and suspenders, yet equally deadly as those who cross here soon discover, especially when she truly revels just how black her dark side really is. For the most part this is a one woman show, while Isabelle handles effortlessly, while at the same time she receives equally strong support from the rest of the cast who all come with their own memorable moments from the cooing and permanently perky Beatress right through to her bear-like assistant / bodyguard Lance (Holiday) who while largely mute and played like a disposable background character  for the majority of the film, pulls out of a blinding surprise monologue in one of the many surprise moments within the film.

While the setup might be off putting to the more squeamish the Soska’s have actually resisted the urge to throw the film into full blown splatter, for while there is some surgical gore it largely kept to a minimum while during a particularly heavy moment, the camera actually pans away, as if disgusted by what is happening on screen. While this might seem like all tease and no pay off, it is actually the opposite as never do you feel like you have been cheated out of seeing anything, while one of Mary’s pet projects brought back memories of Takashi Miike’s “Audition” though how intentional this nod was is hard to tell, especially when the Soska are working with such an original voice, even more so when they avoid the usual pitfalls of setting a film within the body modification community, by not mining it for easy shocks or turning it into the usual willy waving contest of being more fucked up than everyone else, as usually tends to be the case as even a casual glance through a copy of “Bizarre Magazine” will only further highlight.

While “Dead Hooker In A Trunk” might have been an exciting debut, this film truly marks the Soska sisters out as a talent to watch, especially when they bring such an original voice to the horror genre as they prove once more here, with this delightfully dark and twisted tale of personal beauty and surgical perfection.

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