Directed By: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk
Tag line: "Pain Is Inevitable, Suffering Is Optional"
Trivia: Tristan Risk patterned her voice after Ellen Greene
As a follow-up to their low-budget indie film Dead Hooker in a Trunk, twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska give us American Mary, a 2012 movie about a brilliant young medical student whose life takes a very unusual turn.
Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle) wants to be a world-class surgeon. She’s one of the brightest students in her med school, yet, due to a lack of funds, she can’t pay her bills on time. Looking for quick cash, she applies for a job as a stripper, but when her potential boss, Billy (Antonio Cupo), notices on her resume that she’s training to be a surgeon, he instead offers Mary $5,000 to perform an emergency operation, no questions asked. Not in a position to turn down that much money, Mary agrees. But it doesn’t end there. A day or so later, she’s approached by Beatress Johnson (Tristan Risk), a woman who’s undergone numerous procedures to make her look exactly like Betty Boop. Through Beatrice, Mary is introduced to the underground world of body modification, where people are willing to pay top dollar to have their bodies surgically altered (Mary’s first official “patient” is Ruby, played by Paula Lindberg, who asks to have her nipples removed and her vagina sewn shut, thus giving her a doll-like appearance). The promise of fast cash proves hard to resist, but when Mary is invited to a party by her college professor Alan Grant (David Lovgren), who proceeds to drug and rape her, she decides to use her newfound “talents” to exact a little revenge.
Despite the nature of its story, American Mary isn’t particularly gory, though you’ll definitely cringe during some of the operation scenes (a few of which get pretty graphic). Yet what makes it such an engrossing film is the manner in which the Soskas tackle the subject of body modification, at times drawing similarities between this underground movement and the world of so-called “respectable” surgery. While interning at a local hospital, one of her instructors, Dr. Walsh (Clay St. Thomas), tells Mary she has the makings of a “great slasher”, a term surgeons sometimes use to describe their profession. Through her experiences with Drs. Grant and Walsh, Mary finds that the “establishment” isn’t very trustworthy. Needless to say, those seeking body modifications can be pretty bizarre (the Soskas themselves play Mary’s two strangest “patients”), yet American Mary refrains from passing judgment on them, choosing instead to explore this underground scene as opposed to ridiculing it.
Featuring both a strong performance by Katherine Isabelle and an intriguing approach to its story, American Mary is an excellent sophomore effort from the Soska sisters, and as unique a horror film as I’ve seen in some time.