American Mary (2012)

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The twisted Soska Twin’s indie debut feature film: Dead Hooker in a Trunk, a gutsy homage to grindhouse exploitation, made seismic ripples throughout film festivals worldwide when it surfaced in 2009. Destined for cult status, it was a remarkably assured ballsy calling card for the twins, and their follow-up project, American Mary was hotly anticipated.

Medical student Mary (Katherine Isabelle), studies by day and practices her suturing techniques on dead turkeys by night. Money problems impinge on her studies and as she turns to alternative methods of financial sponsorship she finds herself being drawn deeper and deeper into an underground world of ‘body modification’ surgery.

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This is a measured thought-provoking and at times challenging film. It slices through the layers of perceived normality, eviscerating so-called notions of ‘respectability’ and ultimately champions self-expression over conformity. It’s also very funny, although its humour is often of the blackest variety. Naturally, given its subject matter there are scenes of surgical implementation, but these are not mere cheap thrills. They are carefully staged, orchestrated by classical pieces of music (‘Ave Maria’ being used particularly memorably) and rather than play to the Grand Guignol gallery they invite a sombreness which induces hushed silence rather than nervous giggles or cheering whoops.

Katherine Isabelle as ‘Mary’ turns in a remarkable performance of range and depth rarely seen or indeed scripted in genre film making Antonio Cupo provides excellent support as the sleazy nightclub owner ‘Billy’, and Tristan Risk’s performance as ‘Beatress’ is embodied with a truly heartbreaking pathos.

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The eclectic soundtrack perfectly accompanies the film, each track or piece of music instantly conveys a scenes mood or intention, and the scope photography is striking and beautiful on its wide canvas.

American Mary will probably divide opinion, and perhaps that’s a good thing. It certainly doesn’t take the easy path of pure amputation exploitation that the poster artwork may suggest, but it’s all the more richer and rewarding for it. The Soska twins have served up a delicious allegory based in part on their own experiences as film makers in the mainstream vs. indie arena, and their unique vision brings a more than welcome infusion of life.

Long live the new body modified flesh!

First published on Fleapits & Picture Palaces.

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