American Mary DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by XLrator Media
Written and directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska
2012, Region 1 (NTSC), 103 minutes, Rated R
DVD released on June 18th, 2013
Katherine Isabelle as Mary Mason
Antonio Cupo as Billy Barker
Tristan Risk as Beatrice Johnson
David Loygren as Dr. Grant
Paula Lindberg Ruby Realgirl
Clair St. Thomas as Dr. Walsh
John Emmet Tracy as Detective Dolor
Twan Holiday as Lance Delgreggo
Desperate for money to help alleviate her ever-growing pile of bills and school loans, med student Mary Mason reluctantly applies as a sexy dancer at the local strip club. Things take an awkward turn, however, when instead of working hard for her money, Mary is led to the back room of the joint where she is paid five large to sew up a torture victim that Billy (Antonio Cupo), the club owner, just can’t have die yet.
After her adventure at Bourbon a Go Go, Mary is contacted by Beatress, a Betty Boop wannabe willing to pay Mary two thousand bucks just to meet her friend Ruby and another 10 to fulfill Ruby’s unique body modification request. Although hesitant, the money is too much to turn down, and Mary leaves twelve thousand dollars richer than when she arrived for the meeting.
So things are looking up. In a matter of days Mary has earned almost twenty thousand dollars. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Her life seemingly takes an even better turn when she gets invited to a party for a bunch of surgeons. Unfortunately, though, it’s a rape party and she’s the guest of honor. After her sexual violation (by her professor no less), American Mary becomes part revenge flick, part character exploration, and part fascinating look into the world of body modification and underground surgery. And every bit of it is intriguing.
When I first popped American Mary in my player, I was admittedly a bit tentative of what I was about to get into. This film has a lot of hype around it. Hell, our very own HorrorTalk has been part of the machine of getting the word out on this film; Charlotte put it on her best of 2012 list (because the Brits got this first, something I will perpetually bitch about because, you know, American Mary), Becky has the titular character in her “Ten Feisty Horror Femmes”, and Sharon raved about the film in her review. Couple that with the overwhelmingly positive feedback found throughout the horror community and my unrequited love for the film’s star Katherine Isabelle and I felt like I was being set up for profound disappointment. Fortunately, within 10 minutes, I knew my fears were unfounded.
The first thing that stands out in American Mary is the exceptional job Isabelle does with title character. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with her since I first saw (read: raved about) her in 2000’s werewolf gem Ginger Snaps. One thing that impressed me about her performance in that was the ability to act beyond just dialogue, speaking just as seamlessly by using only body language and facial expression, and here it is no different. Isabelle shines, effectively getting a range of believable emotions across, sometimes with just side glance to another character. This is important because Mary is more than a one-dimensional character who goes around slicing off nipples and removing body parts willy nilly. She clearly has some personal demons. The girls at Billy’s club see her as a psychopath, her victims see her as a monster, her bodyguard sees her as someone doing the right thing, one not-so-unfortunate soul sees her as his torturer, the cop investigating the case of a missing person sees her as a victim, and they are all right to some degree or another. The beauty of it is, Isabelle sells each one of those facades. And she raises her own bar during the times when she is simultaneously the victim and the oppressor. It’s all very fascinating to watch.
Complementing Isabelle’s performance is the directing of the Soska twins, Jen and Sylvia. Considering the film’s topic (rape/revenge/medical procedures), it would have been profoundly easy to turn this into a gorefest. But the directors wisely went another, more intelligent route and chose to let the story be the movie and not the grue. It works well, too, because when you have Isabelle clearly knocking out your script, you aren’t going to want to take the attention away from her (or your words) with some blood splatter. That’s not to say American Mary is not uncomfortable. God, no. The Soskas wonderfully went with a technique that has been missing while this torture porn craze has been running amuck; the old “use your imagination against you” trick. There are numerous scenes throughout the movie that are appropriately cringe-worthy, but there’s nothing really visible except a few drops of blood. However, sound effects and physical motion goes far, and the filmmakers clearly know this.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tristan Risk and her performance as Beatress. The character is dangerously close to a ridiculous caricature of a whacky sidekick from go, and when she first appeared on screen I was sure that’s what I was going to get. But Risk apparently would have none of that nonsense and gave the character a life of its own. Instead of being annoyed whenever she came on, by the end of the movie I was looking forward to her appearances.
If there’s any negative to American Mary, it’s that the last 15 minutes of the film slow the progress of the movie some, as it almost seems to lose its way and doesn’t quite know what story it wants to finish with; be it the revenge story, the body modification story, or the story of Mary’s internal battles. Yet the mental brutality of the finale damn near makes that niggle irrelevant. While the ending somewhat surprised me, it felt like the Soska Twins didn’t go for twist or shocking, but instead went with what was, all things considered, fair. It’s not only foreshadowed if you are paying attention, but it almost makes a twisted sort of sense logically, considering the world Mary lives in. And the whole thing is damning, especially considering a conversation Billy and Mary have moments before what happens…happens.
While I had my reservations, it’s easy to say American Mary lives up its deserved hype. Katherine Isabelle has yet to disappoint and the Soskas make it clear they may be the next force to be reckoned with on the horror scene. It’s the best kind of horror: smart. I have yet to see their first film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, but it is now far, far up my ‘to see’ pile, just as American Mary should be in yours.
Video and Audio:
American Mary comes to DVD sporting a gorgeous anamorphic presentation. Flesh tones are natural and the picture effortlessly bounces from cold and crisp in hospital scenes to warm and soft during the bar and more violent scenes.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is more than sufficient. I would have hoped for more of rear and side work out, but dialog is always clear. There is also an offered 2.0 track. English subtitles are available.
- A Revealing Look at the Making of American Mary
- Commentary by Directors Jen & Sylvia Soska, Katharine Isabelle and Tristan Risk
The behind-the-scenes is a raw look at American Mary. The 20-minute piece is not narrated; instead you are voyeur of sorts on the set. While understandably there are people who aren’t a fan of this type of feature, I happen to love them. I find them more entertaining than the three minutes of fluff garbage that is generally passed off as a behind-the-scenes feature.
The commentary is fantastic. There is a lot of info provided by the participants from the ideas behind some scenes to the story behind some of the locations (and, in one case, involves buried bodies). Never dull, always entertaining and going right up through the credits, the commentary is well worth a listen if you enjoy the film. Be forewarned, though, Isabelle's apparently lost her voice a bit and making it worse is she either has the worst mic in the room or she called in and her voice is coming from a speaker (which I'm betting it is). You have to listen a little harder to hear her, but it's not terribly distracting.
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