Jen and Sylvia Soska’s American Mary summons the spirit of Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers with classical music, cold instruments and red scrubs along with a dark Lynchian aesthetic. There are Asian and European horror influences too, yet astonishingly the film feels personal and unique. Intelligent ideas, fascinating body modification procedures and a controlled performance from Katharine Isabelle, in the lead role, all make for hypnotic viewing.
Mary Mason is studying to become a surgeon and suffering financial hardship. Faced with mounting debts, she heads to the Bourbon-a-go-go to support her career via stripping, but her nifty skills with a scalpel are called upon at the last minute by the owner. This then leads to the remarkable looking Beatress approaching Mary to request her services in an extreme body modification operation.
The prosthetics, created by Todd Masters Effects, makes for a tremendous selection of glossy caricatures of the ideal woman. They not only look magnificent, they are also developed well by a sophisticated script. Mary is at first cautious of the body mod community but then embraces this this welcoming bunch after a cruel betrayal by her male work colleagues, backing up the idea that those on the outskirts of society are not to be as feared as the corrupt machine driving them out.
The male surgical team objectify and make ill assumptions about Mary. When the student’s anger reaches boiling point she becomes what some may see as a monster, but to others, a product of a society that isn’t giving her a fair chance. Gender and societal bias come into play no matter how skilled she may be. There’s a revenge element to the plot but ultimately this is about Mary’s fractured existence as she attempts to reclaim her identity.
Many different women grace the screen alongside Mary. There’s Ruby Realgirl who demands to have her “extra bits” removed to reduce the sexualisation and degradation she is sick of due to her appearance and the Soska Sisters cameo as German twins who recognise Mary’s talents.
The filmmakers approach gender bias, aesthetic acceptability and the myth of the American Dream with a potent voice battling against the old boys’ club prevalent in the film industry. This is as bold, beautiful and as original as the horror genre gets.
Katherine awarded American Mary five Torches of Truth