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Exclusive: Sylvia Soska Talks American Mary – First Look at Katharine Isabelle

Dread recently caught up with filmmaker Sylvia Soska, who along with sister Jen is set to direct (from their own script) the horror feature American Mary (we first reported on the project here), to discuss the film and give us the lowdown on their approach to the flick’s effects and more. In addition, the filmmaker provided us with some exclusive teaser art.

Sylvia and her sister (the duo previously delivered last year’s sensationally titled independent feature Dead Hooker in a Trunk) will produce American Mary, which is slated to commence principal photography this June in Vancouver, British Columbia, along with Industry Works and CJ Wallis, and she said of script’s narrative, “It’s the story of a medical student named Mary (portrayed by Ginger Snap’s actress Katharine Isabelle), who is growing increasingly broke and disenchanted with the medical school she attends and the established doctors she once idolized. The allure of easy money sends her into the messy world of underground surgeries, which leaves more marks on her than her so-called freakish clientele.” Actress Paula Lindberg will join Isabelle for the proceedings.

Eschewing the current trend of supernatural horror, and partially inspired by the current and continuing economic downturn and subsequent (for many) disenchantment, Soska said of her inspiration for American Mary, “There is a great portion of underground culture that is explored throughout the film, making the piece a discussion on things that people don’t normally like to talk about. We are in an economic downturn, and people are becoming more desperate to maintain a comfortable life, and those with huge ambitions find themselves compromising their own sense of morality to achieve those now even more impossible goals. The title character, Mary, dreams of being a surgeon – one of the best in the field, and she sees the world with rose-tinted glasses. As her story develops, we see a darker reality of who we perceive to be monsters, and of those who actually are monsters. It’s a story about the pursuit of the ‘American Dream’ that falls into a very dark place in human nature.”

As for the effects portion of American Mary, the Soskas have tapped makeup veteran Mark Shostrom (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors), and Sylvia told us, “We are making a point of doing everything practically. I would hate for people to watch the film in twenty years and see dated computer technology. It takes away from the story. That’s why I feel films like John Carpenter’s The Thing and Jacob’s Ladder have such a life to this day, because those practical effects can stand the test of time. There is only one small effect that we will use slight CG assistance in bringing to life, only because it would be considered cruel and unusual to put a human being through it (practically).

A mutual friend of ours, horror aficionado and writer Kristy Jett, introduced us,” continued Sylvia of Shostrom’s involvement with American Mary. “This was still early on before the project had been greenlit. He had heard about our first film (Dead Hooker in a Trunk) and we – being complete horror nerds – knew who he was, and it was one of those ‘this feels like a dream moments’.

Mark is a master of taking what seem to be impossible and overtly ambitious effects and making them a reality. One of my favorite aspects of his work is that his designs always have this unique sense of style to them. You can see a Mark Shostrom effect from miles away. They have his personal fingerprint. The majority of the effects that will be seen in the film will be of a medical nature, but not the type audiences are necessarily familiar with. There are prosthetics and effects unique only to this film, and there is a certain sequence that we are confidant people will be remembering for a long time – or trying hard to forget, might be a more appropriate description.

It’s a perfect pairing because the effects in American Mary are of the ilk that would terrify and worry most artists with their complexity and uniqueness. Luckily for us and the production, Mark has made a career out of bringing challenging nightmare-inducing effects to life. It’s very exciting. The man looks at an insane sequence and has ten different ways to pull it off perfectly. No hiding things in lighting. Everything can be shot in bright lights, straight-on, and still be horrifying.

As for the casting of lead Isabelle (who’s had a long career in the horror field, from the series “Supernatural” to Ginger Snaps, Freddy Vs. Jason, and beyond) in the role of the titular Mary, “It was very difficult deciding on who to approach,” said Soska, “as the film rests very firmly on the chosen actress’ shoulders, and it is an extremely challenging and complicated role. She is a very strong and intelligent character, but she is also very young and there is quite a heavy focus on her physical appearance, as that is a theme that plays out throughout the film. Mary can be very relatable to people of ‘Generation Y’ as she tries to carve out her role in society, while at the same time there is something very dark within her. That darkness and intelligence mixed with a dangerous amount of ambition and personal growth – the story follows her character over time – isn’t an easy task (for an actress).

We met Katharine after she had a little time with the script to discuss (it). We wanted to make sure we could mesh creatively. Jen and I have loved her work for years, but you never truly know a person until you meet them. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Katharine Isabelle is the perfect Mary.

She has this intelligence to her and this allure,” continued the filmmaker of Isabelle’s inclusion. “Speaking to her is intoxicating – everything she says is interesting, and she has this ability to just draw you in. Despite her veteran status, she is also one of the most down to earth human beings on the planet. When she is committed to a project, she works extremely fucking hard – her work ethic floors me. We are all very excited about the character and bringing her to life. I feel like this movie wants to exist so badly that it has completely possessed me. I’m in love with it, and I was nervous about finding an actress to match that level of excitement. Katie almost exceeds that crazy excitement. It’s going to be quite the spectacle when it hits the big screen. People are going to remember her performance for a very long time.

Stay tuned to Dread for our eventual set visit to American Mary, and in the interim, one can visit the official website for the Soska sisters’ Twisted Twins Productions.

Exclusive Sylvia Soska Talks American Mary - First Look at Katharine Isabelle

Sean Decker

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