Here’s a tricky case subject: The makers of AMERICAN MARY are longtime friends of the site. One is even a regular contributor here. That doesn’t affect my personal decision to continue to heavily endorse this film. I endorse this film because it’s weird, well-made, gruesome, upsetting, socially relevant, thought-provoking, and hard to shake. Think of it this way: The New York Times couldn’t stop reporting on how great Mariano Rivera was as a pitcher just because he played for the home team.
The way I see it, it’s not a question of whether or not AMERICAN MARY belongs on any list of the best horror movies of the past few years, but of how close to the top it ought to be. There haven’t been many recent horror movies that have affected me as deeply as this one did. AMERICAN MARY is a huge leap forward for the Soska Sisters as filmmakers. It’s a sleek, stylin’, occasionally sober and clinical thriller set in the controversial world of body modification.
Katharine Isabelle plays Mary Mason, a struggling med student whose need for money leads her to get wrapped up in doing surgical favors for underworld figures — work that horrifies her at first and leads her to take a sharp right turn into helping people achieve their dreams of resembling cartoon characters, having devil horns, and becoming more plastic and doll-like, among a variety of other alterations. The unsparing operation scenes are just as disturbing as the film’s treatment of these outsiders is empathetic.
Soon enough a brutal assault leads Mary to transform herself, into a cold seeker of some of the most monstrous vengeance imaginable. Katharine Isabelle’s performance is one of the most impressive I’ve seen in any movie in any genre in the past few years — she runs the range from sardonic to sensitive, emotional to disaffected, uncertain to confident, sexy to vicious, charismatic to frightening, and back and forth and more besides. There were a couple moments where she scared me, and I don’t scare easy.
I think that’s how I was supposed to feel, as a straight man who’s biologically prone to leering no matter how sensitive my soul, and as an occasionally complacent and unchallenged horror fan. As much as I can appraise such values, I think there’s some righteous feminism at play here. And I think that’s worthy. The genre needs it. I’m bored with the objectification and ritualistic victimization of female bodies onscreen. Let the tables turn. Especially when the results are this sly and clever.
Best in-joke: The film’s title. This is movie is super-Canadian.
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