I’ll open with this – I found American Mary to be an enjoyably macabre, twisted tale with enough going on that if you wanted to look deeper you could, but alternatively if you just want an enjoyable horror film you can kick back and enjoy, well you can do that as well.
Katharine Isabelle, as the Mary of the title, is a wonderfully evocative – and provocative – presence who carries the film beautifully. As a medical student training to be a surgeon, Mary finds herself in debt and through a series of events ends up becoming an illegal, off the books surgeon performing perverse body modification surgeries on people who wish to look different; very different. It is a role that she is reluctant at first to embrace, but is tipped over the edge and onto a path that ultimately leads to destruction by what is a harrowing and disgusting incident. Invited to attend a party at her lecturer and mentors house – an invitation she is eager to accept because it is being attended by a whole group of surgeons – she is subsequently drugged and raped by said mentor.
It is this scene that I find problematic and it is to do with the use of rape as a transformative experience that within the confines of the narrative is a positive one. It is because of this assault that she embraces a darker personality and thus it is through this incident that the audience get all the enjoyment that comes after, including of course lashings of revenge. I think that sometimes it is too easy to fall back on sexual domination to provide the energy to propel a story forward but I’ll concede that in relation to the way the surgeons are handled does offer a counterbalance and argument to this.
In relation to the surgeons – including Mary – there is this clever riff going throughout the film that they are essentially Gods, able to shape and change the human form. It is a well worn concept and in particular relation to the male surgeons (and it is shown that they regularly have these parties where women are sexually assaulted) there is the underlying element of becoming power mad, of believing you are all powerful and in the end this power driving you insane and becoming your downfall.
Despite all of this heavy stuff going on, it is a film that handles everything else around it very well. There are witty moments interspersed throughout and as I said in the beginning it is an enjoyable watch. It has a great supporting cast including a great turn from Tristan Risk who plays this weird, modified-to-look-like-Betty Boop woman and also Paula Lindberg, who basically wants to be a real life doll.
It is well directed by the Soska twins – Jen and Sylvia – big horror fans who also make a memorable appearance and it looks great. For that you have to credit cinematographer Brian Pearson, who is now going on to work on the forthcoming Insidious 3, a prequel to the first 2.
So then, all in all a good solid film with an ending that follows the central idea about the results of humans playing God – or at least believing they are on a par with God – to it’s inevitable conclusion.
Rating: IMDB gives it 6.3, but I think I’ll stretch to a 7.