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New Release Review - American Mary

Directed by: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, John Emmet Tracy 

A surgery student is drawn into the underground world of extreme body modification.

Struggling to pay her way through college, attractive surgery student Mary (Isabelle) applies for a job at a strip club run by criminals. Her audition is interrupted when one of the club owner’s criminal associates turns up requiring attention on a wound. Mary accepts $5000 to perform impromptu surgery on the man, despite her initial reservations. The following day she is contacted by Beatress (Risk), a performer at the club who offers a large sum for Mary to perform “body-modification” on a friend. She accepts, spending the money on top of the range surgical equipment. Assuming her new found wealth has come through prostitution, her college professor invites Mary to a party where she is drugged and raped. Using her surgery skills and her new criminal contacts, Mary kidnaps her attacker, subjecting him to extreme forms of body modification.
Horror goes through cycles; over the past decade we’ve seen torture-porn, found footage and the current crop of possession flicks. One strand of horror that’s been long dormant is the “mad doctor/scientist” sub-genre made popular in the thirties by Universal and revived by Hammer three decades later. Despite its modern trappings, ‘American Mary’ has more in common with those gothic classics than the straight-to-DVD splatter fare its likely to be lost amongst. With a performance ranging from vulnerable to downright terrifying, Isabelle stands as a contemporary feminist updating of the “human monsters” once played so fiendishly by the likes of Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing. As was often the par with those characters, she starts off with good intentions but finds herself following a dark path.
Avoiding the gore you might expect from such a plot, (the surgeries, thankfully, occur offscreen), the Soskas give us something we haven’t seen for a long time: a thoughtful horror movie. Just like Tod Browning with ‘Freaks’, the co-directing twins play on our preconceptions of image and beauty. When we first meet Beatress, a stripper whose multiple surgeries have turned her into a grotesque Betty Boop lookalike, we’re unsettled as she looks and sounds like something from a David Lynch movie. As the film progresses she wins our sympathies, revealing herself as a likeable character whose idea of physical perfection just happens to veer wildly astray of the mainstream. The general condemnation of cosmetic surgeries is one of the great hypocrisies of today’s society. We’ve created a world obsessed with physical perfection yet quickly pour scorn on anyone who tackles their discomfort through surgery. Presenting us with a character whose nipples and genitalia are removed on request, the Soskas dispel the myth that women have surgery solely to satisfy the male gaze. Some people simply want to look different, who are we to say they shouldn’t exercise this right? 
7/10
American Mary (2012) on IMDb 6.6/10



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