Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 18, 2013)
Although I can think of many brothers who direct films together, I can come up with no such list of movie-making sisters - or I couldn’t conjure any examples until 2012’s American Mary landed on my doorstep. Written/directed by twins Jen and Sylvia Soska, the flick introduces us to Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle), a brilliant med student wbo wants to be a surgeon.
However, Mary hits snarls, partly due to an inability to pay for school. To raise funds, she applies for a job at a “gentleman’s club”, but in the middle of her interview, her prospective boss Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo) gets called away to deal with a situation. An employee has been severely injured, so Billy offers Mary $5000 if she’ll operate on the victim.
Desperate for cash, Mary does so, but the circumstance leaves her disturbed, and that feeling doesn’t change when stripper Beatress Johnson (Tristan Risk) winds up on her door. Beatress pursues multiple cosmetic surgeries to resemble Betty Boop, and she offers Mary $10,000 if she’ll operate on Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg), a fashion designer who strives to look like a “living doll”.
What does the surgery entail? The removal of Ruby’s various “girl parts” so she’ll be just as asexual as a plastic Barbie. Mary goes along with this and slowly finds herself drawn into the “extreme body modification community”, a group of folks who pursue radical cosmetic surgery. Increasingly disenchanted with the misogynists she meets in medicine, Mary delves deeper into the dark underworld now open to her.
There’s something to be said for the feminist revenge fantasy, and even though I lack the requisite distribution of chromosomes to fully invest in these tales, I can find potential value in them. Regardless of gender involved, stories such as this can allow the viewer an outlet to see misdeeds punished in socially inappropriate ways.
Unlike something such as Girls Against Boys, however, Mary doesn’t spend a ton of time with its revenge motif. While it becomes part of the plot, that theme doesn’t dominate, as Mary prefers to devote much of its time to the basic creepiness of the body modification culture in which Mary involves herself.
Those elements wind up as the most effective, as Mary conveys a dark, unsettling experience – possibly more unnerving that it desires, actually. I sense the Soska intend much of the film as a black comedy, and some of that comes through at times. However, the material just becomes too ugly and disgusting for much amusement to result; for better or for worse, the movie left me semi-nauseous much of the time.
So I can say that the Soskas can convey tone but Mary doesn’t display a same level of talent when it comes to story-telling or character development. Both become handicaps and cause the movie to work less well than I’d like.
In terms of narrative, Mary lacks much of one. It does attempt a through-line as we see Mary go from med student to underground surgeon, but the film doesn’t relate these elements in an especially smooth, logical manner.
A lot of the problem relates to character areas, especially connected to Mary herself. Her arc just doesn’t seem believable, as she involves herself in her new environment with perplexing ease. Oh, the film pays minor lip service to some qualms, but just barely; for the most part, Mary turns into a warped surgeon without much real motivation.
Isabelle does offer a highlight as the lead, at least. She manifests a nice girl next door cuteness but also displays the necessary darkness. Isabelle becomes the strongest aspect of the flick.
If only Mary came with a better-told story, it could’ve been more effective. As it stands, the movie boasts some creepy moments but lacks consistency.