American Mary (2012)
Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska
The shady world of underground body modification proves too strong an allure to resist for medical student Mary Mason in the Soska sisters’ fantastic American Mary. Struggling to pay her bills while focusing on her studies, Mary answers an ad for a job as a waitress at a shady strip bar run by Billy (Cupo). During her “audition” for the position, Billy finds himself in immediate need of someone with medical experience as a result of some of his more dodgy business activities taking place in the club’s basement, and he offers Mary an irresistible amount of cash to help.
Having performed a good job, Mary later finds herself approached by the soft-spoken Beatress, a lady who has undergone multiple surgeries to make her look like Betty Boop. Once again offered a tremendous amount of cash to perform a procedure on Beatress’ friend (removing her nipples and sewing up her vagina so as to give her the real-life appearance and functionality of a Barbie doll), Mary agrees and soon finds herself the go-to gal for people from all over looking for some extreme changes in their appearance. After suffering a particularly horrendous turn of events, Mary is forced to drop out of medical school and dive headfirst into her newfound career. Known in hushed circles as “Bloody Mary”, she becomes as feared as she is admired – but her actions have consequences that are slowly closing in on all sides.
A cautionary tale through and through, American Mary not only challenges its audience’s sense of morality and judgement but also forces them to consider their perception of others and the all-too-easy trap of stereotyping. Interestingly, the most genuine, accepting and human characters to be found here are those of the most grotesque (by popular standards) and altered appearances, while the most monstrous are those in positions of respected authority – more content with irrevocably altering the lives and minds of others through abuse and violence than changing anything about their already abhorrent selves.
The gorgeous Katharine Isabelle delivers a superlative, career-defining performance as Mary – an ambitious, vulnerable girl eventually twisted and sullied by circumstances that change her world. Her relationship with Billy holds a sweetness of its own, a promise of romance that neither of them really manages to drag to the surface, lending a multi-layered gravitas to their scenes together which, thankfully, both actors realise impeccably. As Beatress, Tristan Risk is an absolute delight.
While there’s plenty of blood and dismemberment to go around, the violence is never the focus of American Mary. Populated with scalpel-sharp dry wit (a quick nod to Josef Mengele is a cough-and-you’ll-miss-it success), this is a thoughtful, absorbing and excellently paced piece of storytelling from start to finish. While the ending seems disappointingly rushed and Mary’s transition from skilled surgeon to ruthless butcher and enforcer isn’t given enough focus to be entirely convincing, Jen and Sylvia Soska have made a film that feels deeply personal and filled with such dedication that it simply can’t be ignored. Book your appointment with American Mary as soon as possible.
4 out of 5