The Soska sister’s American Mary was one of the most eagerly anticipated and well received films at FrightFest 2012. Foror many of the amassed audience it was their film of the fest. Sadly for me this story of surgery, revenge and extreme body enhancement was more of a botched nose job than a medical marvel.
What made the film most frustrating is that it starts so strongly. It’s an intriguing story revolving around Mary (the excellent Katharine Isabelle, seen in Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning and Freddy vs. Jason), a gifted medical student who is desperate to make it as a surgeon.
She is also desperate for money and decides to try out for a job at a seedy strip club where the owner Billy (Antonio Cupo) is impressed by both her body and her medical skills. It all begins when he asks her to patch up a badly beaten grass who suffered an unfortunate accident at his hands.
Distressed and disturbed, Mary believes that she is done with this underworld, however a call from a stripper named Beatrice (Tristan Risk) who has spent her life on surgery to make her look like Betty Boop changes everything.
Beatrice wants Mary’s help to perform an elaborate and controversial operation on her cousin. And it’s this experience, plus the amazing amount of money it brings that leads Mary down the path of elective underground body modification – a world that she is plunged every deeper into once she becomes the victim of a brutal attack at the hands of someone she once trusted and looked up to.
At its core and at the beginning of the film, American Mary opens the audience up to an interesting and unexplored world of body modifications. It includes everything from tongue splitting to elective surgical removal of specific body parts.
Part Cronenberg-esque body horror, part informative exploration, the film challenges the viewer on what is acceptable and normal, showing alterations – some real and others unreal.
The character of Beatrice, played brilliantly by Risk, is not only the comic relief in the film but also the nicest and most positive character, which along with other scenes in the film serves to accentuate the fact that the people choosing to have these procedures are just as regular as you or I… Well, sort of.
This is counterpoised against the world of doctors who are portrayed as a gang of egotistical misogynists, uncaring of the emotions of others or the morality of their work. Surgeons are psychopaths and at first it seems Mary must learn this lesson to escape the path that they where forcing her on in order to become a better person.
Unfortunately though, all the original ideas and the innovative world created in the first half is destroyed in the second as the film spirals into incoherence, devastating the creative characters and plunging the film into cliché.
Throwing in a rape revenge plot line pushes Mary into the realms of horror villain. And as the movie moves forward, Isabelle becomes less convincing, more ridiculous and less likable as Mary heads towards madness for no real, particular reason.
Added to this is a trite and incongruous unrequited love story between Mary and Billy which seems to be only inserted so that the audience can get a few cheap thrills. This is particularly evident in the dream sequences where she strips for him which just demeans the strong female character in a surreptitious way that simply doesn’t work.
Overall it’s a real pity as the promise and power that American Mary opens with is lost along the way, the final nail in Mary’s coffin being the ending which seems as rushed and unbelievable as a budget boob job (which leaves you feeling just as unhappy and ripped off).
Like a plastic surgery obsessed starlet, American Mary starts out looking great but ends up a total mess of wasted potential, which is a real shame.