Here it is at last. I feel very late to the party on this one, having missed out on what seemed like the Soska sisters world tour, accompanying American Mary around numerous festivals where it met with almost unanimous positive reactions from audiences. They even came to Edinburgh, with gorgeous leading lady Katharine Isabelle, and I STILL missed out. No, it wasn’t the restraining order. That ran out five years after the release of Ginger Snaps so I could have gone along if my schedule had allowed it.
Anyway, you can’t discuss American Mary without first celebrating the creative force behind it. The powerhouse team of twins Jen and Sylvia Soska, who both wrote and directed the film (which was shot in about fifteen days). I first encountered the sisters when I viewed and reviewed Dead Hooker In A Trunk and was most gratified to see them share the review. I quickly found out that that’s how they are. All the time. Lively, passionate and always seeming to have time for horror fans, the Twisted Twins are a great addition to the horror genre and great role models for women wanting to prove that they can do anything the men can do, and then some. In fact, while waiting to finally view American Mary I started to worry about the flood of positive reviews, taking it as a sign that many interviewers, reviewers and writers had been won over more by the personalities of the Soska sisters than by the film itself.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
American Mary is about the world of body modification. Mary (Isabelle in the lead role, of course) is a medical student who needs to get her finances in order ASAP. Fate smiles upon her when she applies for a job at a bar and, instead, ends up putting her medical skills to good use. Her potential employer (Antonio Cupo) is impressed and Mary soon gets a reputation as someone who can work under pressure and do great work with surgery tools. She’s the perfect choice for people who want some discreet (and some not so discreet) work done to modify their appearance. Of course, the work isn’t without danger, but neither is any other part of Mary’s life.
This is, essentially, a body horror movie and you can’t make a body horror movie without bringing the great David Cronenberg to mind. Such is the case here and it’s no small compliment to say that this compares favourably to the work of Cronenberg, particularly his magnificent Dead Ringers. It helps that the film works on a number of levels, from the obvious moments that might make you a bit queasy to the wonderful attitude embraced by Mary as she encourages people to let her help them be all they want to be to the delightful skewering of the chasing of the American dream – Mary is an intelligent and hard-working entrepreneur who finds herself at the top of the tree in a niche market.
Isabelle is great in the lead role, as she is in everything she ever does, while Antonio Cupo is also very good, and surprisingly sweet, as Billy Barker, the man who inadvertently sets Mary on a very different path from the one she had envisioned. The gorgeous Tristan Risk is pretty unrecognisable as Beatress Johnson and Paula Lindberg is also hidden away under the make-up of Ruby Realgirl, but both ladies give great performances. David Lovgren, Clay St. Thomas and John Emmet Tracy do decent work even if they are unmemorable compared to the selection of characters who have undergone physical transformations (a deliberate choice by the Soska sisters?). Jen and Sylvia also appear onscreen in an enjoyable extended cameo. They’re fun, it’s just a shame that they decided to put on accents.
The script is solid, the look of the movie is almost exactly what the ladies were after (it brings to mind the style of the better Asian horrors to have appeared in the last decade or so) and the effects scattered throughout are very impressive. Yet, what really transforms American Mary (pun intended) is the fact that it delivers the goods for horror fans who don’t mind some intelligence with their bloodshed and also stands out as something impressively original in a genre that can often be overcrowded with torture movies, zombie films, remakes and sequels.
I can’t wait to see what the Twisted Twins give us next. Maybe next time I’ll even get along to a screening and ask them a few questions in person. Or maybe I’ll try to stay calm and professional for five minutes before giving up, offering up some Deadpool-centric gift and pleading for autographs. I hope it’s the former, but I think we’d all end up having fun with the latter option too.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: JEN SOSKA, SYLVIA SOSKA
STARS: KATHARINE ISABELLE, ANTONIO CUPO, TRISTAN RISK, DAVID LOVGREN, PAULA LINDBERG, CLAY ST THOMAS, JOHN EMMET TRACY, JEN SOSKA, SYLVIA SOSKA
RUNTIME: 103 MINS APPROX