Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The O Canada Blogathon: American Mary

It's time once again to participate in another blogathon. I love these things. I get to "meet" more of you because more of you come here. I'd say it's a win-win situation. Yes, I'm assuming that your coming here is a win for you. Let's move on.

This particular blogathon is hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy because, as they happily and correctly point out, "the Hollywood movies you love owe a lot to Canada." They invited bloggers from all over to post on some aspect of Canada's contribution to the cinematic universe. A rather long list of folks have signed on, so swing by as many as you can and check them out. Hopefully, if and when they stop by here to read this post they won't be too pissed about what I did to the very classy black and white banners they created for us bloggers to use. Sorry ladies, but there is a reason for that.

For my entry, I'm going to keep in line with what's going on around my own blog all month, and that's sticking with horror. Now, when I say Canadian horror, most people will think David Cronenberg. They should. Even if I'd never seen anything else he's done, I hold Videodrome in such high regard that his spot on the pantheon of film makers from our neighbors to the north is secure. Yeah, I'm American. So, of course, I would pick a Canadian movie with an American name.

American Mary is directed by twins Jen and Sylvia Soska, pictured above (told you there was a reason), who have been making some noise in the horror world over the last few years. Born April 29, 1983 in North Vancouver the girls got into horror at an early age. Eventually, they would attend film school. During this time they created their debut movie Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009). It was made on a less than shoe string budget of $2500 USD and became a cult favorite. Together, they run Twisted Twins Productions. American Mary is their follow-up which was actually financed by their parents who re-financed their house to do so. They definitely prove that where there's a will, there's a way. Their third movie, See No Evil 2, is due out next week.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's focus on this movie...

Directed by The Soska Sisters.
2012. Rated R, 102 minutes.
Katharine Isabelle
Antonio Cupo
Tristan Risk
David Lovgren
Paula Lindberg
Julia Maxwell
Clay St. Thomas
John Emmet Tracy
Jen Soska
Sylvia Soska

Mary Mason (Isabelle) is a medical school student well on her way to becoming a surgeon. She is also having serious financial problems. Like a lot of female students having trouble making ends meet, she decides to try her hand at stripping. while "interviewing" with Billy Barker (Cupo), a sleazy club owner, fate intervenes. One of his goons sustains a serious injury and an emergency procedure is needed. Since Billy noticed Mary's career aspirations on her resume...yup, she took a resume to a strip joint audition...he offers her five thousand bucks on the spot to patch up his boy. He stresses that she won't even have to show him her tits. She just has to get it done, right there in the club, no questions asked. Reluctantly, she agrees and all goes well. Pretty soon, Beatrice (Risk), one of the club's dancers, gets hold of Mary. She heard about our heroine's handiwork and wants Mary to perform some pretty wild cosmetic surgery on a friend. Beatrice, by the way, has already been drastically altered to look like legendary cartoon character Betty Boop. This also goes extremely well. Back in her regular life, just when things seem to be turning in her favor, let's just say she suffers a serious setback in her relationship with an instructor. Spurred on by this event, she quits med school and dives head first into the extreme body modification world, becoming a highly sought after "doctor." Of course, a girl has to practice her craft. With billy's help, she uses that instructor for her own personal cutting board.

American Mary is a movie that makes a go at being several different things. At some of those, it's very successful. At others, not so much. With revenge being a major motivating factor, it most obviously attempts to be an I Spit on Your Grave inspired girl-power flick. This is effective, but not in the way you might think. After starting on that conventional road, it turns the concept on its ear and becomes about the abuse of that power and how intoxicating it can be to have it. Mary cautiously wields hers and even behaves in an indignant manner toward those who request something of her that she thinks doesn't make full use of her abilities. She berates some poor guy who asks her for something so simple as piercings. In her eyes, this is a waste of her talent. From time to time we're reminded how she hones that talent by seeing some of the heinous things she does to that instructor.

The film is also successful at skewering our notions of beauty and the lengths we'll go in order to achieve it. Granted, Beatrice and her friend are in the tiniest possible section of the bell curve. Almost. Two sisters, the actual directors of the film by the way, show up in the last act and take things to whole new level. The point is, the absurd actions of these people bring our own insanity into the light.

Where American Mary falters is with the more straight forward elements of story-telling. While Mary's life is certainly an intriguing one, the drama surrounding it is not. More accurately, it's not presented in an interesting enough way. We get the typical cat-and-mouse between Mary and a cop looking for the missing instructor. This just hits the usual notes. The cop is too bland, and the writing makes no effort to elevate him beyond being anything other than perfunctory. More troubling is the relationship between Mary and her grandmother. Much is made of it, since Grandma seems to be the only other person she really cares about. Perhaps because we only hear Grandma's disembodied voice over the phone, or because their conversations aren't necessarily the warmest, but it doesn't resonate as much as it should. It comes to a point where we're definitely supposed to feel something, but don't. finally, there's the attempt to show how complicated a relationship Mary has with Billy. there is a weird sexual tension between the two that's handled in too abrupt a fashion.

Despite its shortcomings, American Mary is a fascinating watch. It puts forth some thought provoking concepts and outlandish visuals that keep us engaged even as the narrative quality wanes. For some, the ideas presented may be enough to carry the movie on their own. They don't quite pull off that trick for me, but there is definitely plenty to work with. Better execution of the plot would have made this downright brilliant. As it stands, it's a good movie that slips in some social commentary and has the courage to be fairly unique.


  1. This sounds like a thought-provoking movie, one that addresses sometimes controversial trends in our society.

    Before you had signed up for the blogathon, I had never heard of the Soska Sisters (and I call myself a Canadian!), and I found the background info on their movie financing really interesting, e.g. they made a movie on $2500?!! Incredible!

    Thanks so much for joining the blogathon and for introducing us (me) to these incredibly resourceful women.

    1. It certainly is a thought provoking movie.

      Lots of people who aren't big into horror haven't heard of them, yet. And yeah, women directors are sorely needed in all genres, but especially horror. Hopefully, we'll be seeing big things from these two in the near future.

  2. I'd wondered about this one a couple times but now I'll go back and watch it. Good choice not only for the Canadian angle but for showcasing women filmmakers as well. Thanks!

    1. Thanks. It's not a scare-a-minute type horror flick, but one that makes you think. I appreciate that about it.

  3. Cool stuff, man. I just added this one to my Netflix queue and am looking forward to it. I wish I could go nuts and watch a dozen horror movies this month, but I'll probably only get to half of that. That said, I think this one is going to make the cut.

    I want to check out these sisters and their work. The whole thing sounds pretty cool. Thanks for the heads up, Dell.

    1. Cool. I'd love to hear your take on it. I haven't seen their debut, myself. Hopefully, I'll get to soon.

  4. Hi Wendell! This sounds fascinating indeed just from reading the plot but I can't stomach surgery scenes so I don't think I'd ever want to sit through this one, ahah.

    1. It is fascinating, but I understand what you mean about surgery scenes. We all have our limits, right?