Jen and Sylvia Soska (aka the Twisted Twins) broke out onto the scene a few years back with their Grindhouse/Exploitation homage, Dead Hooker In A Trunk. With that film, the Canadian duo proved that they could make an entertaining movie on a small budget, and that violence, gore, and sick humor are not only something that the boys can play with. That being said, the Soskas’ follow up feature, American Mary, manages to reinforce that notion, while also showing that the pair are more than just one trick ponies.
American Mary tells the story of Mary Mason (played by Katharine Isabelle), a medical student who is aspiring to someday become a surgeon. Her professors say that she has the talent, but that she also lacks focus in her studies; probably due to her financial troubles. In order to try and get herself out of debt, Mary begins searching the classifieds, and she finds herself applying for a job at a local Gentleman’s Club run by Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo). An awkward interview makes it clear that she will need to do more than just wait tables, should she get the job. However, the interview is suddenly interrupted, and Mary finds herself being offered a huge sum of money if she will perform impromptu surgery on an unnamed man who has obviously been beaten within an inch of his life. Begrudgingly, she accepts, leading her down a dark and twisted path into the world of underground surgery and body modification.
Right off the bat, it’s clear that American Mary is very different in tone from the Soskas’ previous film. There is humor here, but it is of the blackest kind, and often I found myself laughing during the most inappropriate of situations. However, while the film is not just about dark humor, and at the center of it is a twisted morality tale that asks how far people should be willing to go to alter their appearances and whether or not it should be permissible. The film is filled with troubled characters, but the most dangerous of them prove to be those who appear the most “normal,” bringing to light the notion that the sickest people out there are the ones who hide their true personality, rather than wearing it on the outside for all to see.
The film looks phenomenal. I realize that the dark, Gothic look has been done plenty of times before, but the Soskas manage to put their own unique take on it that is both sexy and demented. Brian Pearson’s cinematography is the best that it has ever been, and it shows that he is extremely capable of working on films much darker than some of his previous ones (i.e. Final Destination 5, Drive Angry). While those films looked appropriately good for their source material, Person’s work on American Mary is much more daring, and he wears his European influences on his sleeve here.
The performances are also much better in this film than they were in Dead Hooker. The standout performance is obviously Katharine Isabelle’s portrayal of Mary, which is nothing short of fantastic. Though I still love Isabelle as Ginger in the awesome teenage-girl werewolf flick, Ginger Snaps, this is arguably the best work she has ever done. Cupo’s take on Billy Barker is also very good, but some of the supporting cast manage to steal some of the key scenes; most notably Tristan Risk as Beatress Johnson, a dancer who has taken her love of a certain cartoon character a bit far, and Twan Holliday who brings some great dark humor as Lance, one of Billy’s thugs. I also have to give a shout out to Clay St. Thomas, who’s Dr Walsh is immensely slimy and unnerving.
The only real issue that I found with American Mary was that some of the dialog in the script felt a tad awkward at first. Most notably, David Lovgren’s lines as Dr. Walsh felt a bit forced and exposition-heavy. I admit that they gave me an immediate idea of where his character was headed, but I couldn’t help but think that they would be more effective if they were less over-the-top and a bit more subtle at times. However, this really only crossed my mind during the first act of the film, and once things got rolling, his character fell right in line.
And, since this movie has quite a few scenes involving body modification, I would be remiss to not mention how great the prosthetic effects are. From what I understand, CGI was used to help enhance the effects, but I honestly couldn’t point out much obvious usage; certainly none that was unnecessary, at least. Todd Masters and his team, MastersFX, did an amazing job of transforming some of the best-looking people into bizarre characters. The film is not overly-gory, but due to the body-horror theme here, there are many cringe-worthy moments to be found.
All in all, American Mary, is a great film, and it represents a huge step for the Soska Sisters in almost every area. The pair show huge enthusiasm for the genre, and the movie marks a big leap in mature film-making for them. It’s obvious that they can do a lot more than many Hollywood directors, and with only a fraction of the budget those folks have at their disposal. After seeing what they’ve done here, I am very interested to find out what they have planned next, and I can’t wait to get the chance to re-watch American Mary again. The film has been acquired by Universal for overseas distribution, and it was announced at this screening that Anchor Bay has picked it up for distribution in Canada, but as of the time of this writing, I don’t believe that it has secured a distributor in the US. Let’s hope that changes very soon. I have a feeling it will.
Custom images by Frank Browning