#19 – American Mary
After unleashing their inimitable brand of exploitation thrills with Dead Hooker in a Trunk, the Soska Sisters return with an altogether classier, more cerebral brand of horror in the delirious American Mary. As medical student Mary (Katharine Isabelle) tries to eke her way through school against severe financial hardship, she finds a possible solution to her problems when offered vast sums of money to perform peculiar off-the-books surgeries on members of the body modification community. While initially the vast influx of cash seems to solve all of her woes, she soon discovers the more gruelling psychological effects of her work, with grim consequences.
You have never seen a horror quite like this; perhaps best earmarked as a cross between Nip/Tuck and Flatliners, the Soska Sisters bring a distinctly offbeat style and tone to the table, keen to mine our fascination with the bizarre for all it is worth. Early on this makes for sublime comedy, particularly the first time we meet Beatress (Tristan Risk), a stripper who has had elective surgeries to have her likeness more closely resemble Betty Boop, to a disturbing – and hilarious – end. The carousel of the curious continues, with a patient who wishes to revoke her sexual objectivity in drastic fashion, and twins – played by the writer-directors themselves – who want to strengthen their connection. Also devilishly funny are several scenes taking place in the hospital where Mary is training; the senior doctors possess a morbid sense of humour that will play only too well to the horror crowd, while Mary is herself thoroughly, hilariously bemused by the entirety of her predicament.
American Mary is never as much fun as this in its second half, as the tone turns more downcast and literally horrifying, but the shift is steadily conducted and absolutely in the spirit of what preceded it. The transformation of Mary from reluctant surgeon to willing torturer is firmly justified by a disturbing mid-film scene upon which everything else can be said to rest. Needless to say, the Soska Sisters don’t wimp out when it comes to the crunch, and the film doesn’t end how one might have anticipated, a testament to their unyielding, daring vision.
A wickedly funny bout of body horror that also cuts deep.