I too, am finding it hard to get excited about horror movies these days. But when I heard about American Mary, I was intrigued. Whether it was a desire to see something new and original, directed by a pair of women no less, or a vague hope that maybe this genre does still have something innovative to offer, I can’t say. This was one of the most popular movies at last year’s FrightFest, and has received high praise from the online horror community. Currently American Mary is boasting 7.3 on IMDB, and 72% on Rotten Tomatoes, albeit with relatively small numbers of votes so far. You could argue that these are pretty respectable ratings for horror fans. But if you take into account that only horror fans thus far have seen it, maybe this isn’t so high. However, we sit through so much crap, that when something good comes along, we don’t shut up about it.
So when it was announced that American Mary was coming to my local cinema, I jumped at the chance. Not only that, but it would be followed by a Q&A with the directors, The Soska Sisters, and the star, American Mary herself, Katharine Isabelle. I felt like my passion for horror had been reignited. I craned to get half a glimpse of the guests of honour in the bar before the doors opened. I kicked myself for neglecting to bring my copy of Freddy vs Jason to be signed. I squirmed with anticipation in my seat as the trailers rolled.
Synopsis from Fetch.fm
Struggling to make financial ends meet while studying to be a surgeon, talented medical student Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) finds herself reduced to applying for work at a local strip joint in order to pay off her mounting debts. During her interview, she is unexpectedly called upon to perform some illegal emergency surgery on one of the club’s clients and is instantly rewarded with a significant cash payment.
Word of Mary’s scalpel-work soon reaches one of the club’s dancers, Beatress Johnson (Tristan Risk), who approaches her offering to pay handsomely for some off-the-books, extreme body-modification work on a friend. The ensuing surgery is a huge success and Mary’s skills soon attract the attention of an underground network of high-paying clientele, all looking for someone to administer procedures and body-mod work unavailable through the usual legal channels.
However, the allure of the easy money and the increasingly bizarre work she is commissioned to perform begins to leave a mark on Mary, and when an incident involving the established surgeons she once idolized leaves her traumatised, “Bloody Mary”, as she has come to be known, responds in the only way she knows how.
Was American Mary all I hoped?
Sadly this was almost as disappointing as Prometheus. With a movie like this, you need either an incredible story, or some wicked gore, and given the subject matter, I was expecting the latter, which would have satiated me perfectly. American Mary doesn’t deliver on either count. Instead it is all setup and no payoff. We have a scene which consists of a torture prelude, where Mary is reeling off to her ill-fated captor all the modifications she plans to make to his body. While we later see the aftermath, the audience was looking forward to the journey. She has already told us what she is going to do to him, so it is not a shock when we see it. Admittedly the special effects were pretty good, but what I really wanted was to see the process.
Falling down on gore is not a deal-breaker if there are other things in the movie to keep my interest – but unfortunately American Mary had little in the way of suspense, shocks, or characters that I really cared about. We get the slightest information about Mary’s financial situation to explain why she finds herself where she does, but we don’t get the contrasting scenes of her finding fulfillment in what she chooses to do and therefore continue. Her first encounter with a real medical situation outside of school is followed by a pretty heartbreaking scene when she returns home and is hit with the realisation of what has just happened, but the next day when she agrees to perform outrageous cosmetic surgery, there seems to be no conflict within her. The final act really falls apart, and the movie ends on a confusing anticlimax.
I will say that the performance from Katharine Isabelle was pretty great, and she actually looks quite stunning on screen. There were some genuine moments of comedy here too, but I think the Soska sisters should have decided what tone they were aiming for. Considering this is only their second feature-length outing (after Dead Hooker in a Trunk, in which I have not yet had the dubious pleasure of partaking) it honestly could have been worse. Perhaps a second viewing is in order, but I could not help but feel that I was watching a different movie from everyone else.
American Mary is released on DVD here in the UK tomorrow.