It is rare, but there are times when I leave a theater, or shut off my TV, and don’t want to talk to anyone. My thoughts race, yet simultaneously, it feels like I’m doped to the gills. I’ve decided to call this phenomenon “movie daze.” Time after time a movie ends, and this high is not achieved. I need a stronger drug than the usual that’s been filtering through my eyes into my cerebral cortex to achieve my blissful “movie daze.” After all, I’ve been an addict for years. The same stuff isn’t going to work as well.
And then along comes Mary…
Sophomore efforts often prove a difficult affair for filmmakers. Especially when they have a successful feature film. Should they chose to stick to the same exact themes, and match the style that made their first film so well received? Or, should they switch tones, and show the world they are capable of multiple notes? This is a risky move. Fans have come to expect a certain kind of film.
The Soska sisters, known as The Twisted Twins, Jen and Sylvia, decided to go for broke, and switch things up. The results are breathtaking.
Katherine Isabelle plays Mary Mason, a broke med school student strapped for cash. She’s going to get the boot from school, and never fulfill her dreams of becoming a surgeon, unless she can find some money, and fast.
She sees an ad online for a gig at a strip club. And from there, through sheer happenstance, she is introduced into the world of unlicensed surgery. Mainly of the body modification kind. The type of work regular surgeons just won’t do.
Having been a fan of Isabelle for a while (see creepy joke post below) I can say without a doubt that this is her finest performance. She is vulnerable, yet capable of a ferocity so unnerving it’s eerie, all with just a look, or a specific tone to her voice, or just through her posture. Its all usually quite subtle. Yet, there are times she blows the roof off the fucking house, and cries with all the fury of a woman pushed past the brink of sanity. She is equally magnetic and repellent. Sympathetic, and so far gone you don’t even want to imagine her headspace. Even then, she still gets our empathy once the blood has stopped spurting.
Her supporting cast is just as compelling, from strip club owner Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo) the sleazeball with a heart of gold, to Lance Delgreggo (Twan Holliday) the muscle, with a love of shrimp, and intimidation. Stripper turned Betty Boop-alike, Beatress Johnson (Tristan Risk) and her high-pitched impersonation of the cartoon character from the 30’s makes an excellent on screen pairing for Mary. She, more than any other character, represents the world of body modification, and the strange, yet understandable desires of its patrons. For after all, under the scarring, the surgery, and the rest, they’re just like you and me. Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg) does an excellent job, despite having some of the least screen time in the film.
And let’s not forget the real monster in this flick, Dr. Grant (David Lovgren) who seems like a hard working instructor, and surgeon, until we discover…well, that’s for you to find out.
The practical effects in AM are gore-geous. Todd Masters and the aptly named MastersFX are truly disgusting. Yet, this isn’t a gore-fest like say, A Serbian Film. The violence is subtle, often just hinted at, or cut away from. When the leakage and cuts are shown they are unnerving, yet the time they aren’t shown, when the imagination fills in the gaps are almost worse. Don’t think the Soskas don’t realize this. They know how to get under your skin. How to leave a lasting scar.
The growth between their first film, and this film is incredibly impressive. Not only is the tone much darker, but the camera work has switched from a cinema verite style, to a much more stable style of camera work. It’s nice, especially in this world of found footage-athons, and shaky cam films which block out the sun. Imagine it, skillful framing, and shots designed to hold an image in the frame, and not zoom right the Hell past it before we can even appreciate the composition. Truly surgical precision is used in these shots. The cinematography is inspiring, and all praise goes to Brian Pearson for that.
There are still great one-liners, but the writing has also evolved. We are still treated to some familiar Soska themes and devices. The film stays true to the style they’ve developed, yet shows a whole new shade of black, all the more obsidian. If Dead Hooker was cooked medium, American Mary is positively charred.
I really enjoyed the music in American Mary. I must admit, I’m always nervous about movie scores, and song selection. Some of my favorite films have songs I just loathe in them. There wasn’t one song in AM I hated.
When you see a truly great film, it gives you strength to keep slogging through the mediocrity. You keep searching for that next big fix, the one which will leave you satiated, at least for a time. American Mary is a unique stroll down a dark alleyway, in which you find terrifying things, yet you can’t turn away. It is horrifying, yet beautiful. Disgusting, yet delicious.
And most importantly, it administers a remarkably high dosage, to keep you buzzed. Eventually the euphoria will pass, and you’ll find yourself with an intense craving for the next flick from the Soska sisters.
I’m quite itchy ladies, hurry up and bring us another hit.