American Mary

Sometimes, you watch a movie and it just clicks with you. You understand the movie and the movie understands you. I’ve felt that with Interview with the Vampire and The Silence of the Lambs and I felt it with this week’s movie.

You know how people talk about women’s movies and they mean the movies they show on Lifetime and Hallmark channel and romantic comedies? Those aren’t women’s movies, American Mary is a movie that shows what it’s like to be a woman.
The movie stars Katharine Isabelle as Mary Mason, a medical student hoping to become a surgeon.
She’s very poor and deeply in debt. Getting the scary calls from the student loan people, that kind of in debt. Mary peruses the help wanted ads and finds a job looking for strippers. Her audition is cut short when one of the club owner’s thugs is brought in, injured. Billy (Antonio Cupo) offers Mary $5,000 to fix him up. She operates on him but is scared and remorseful afterwards.
Afterwards, Beatress (Tristan Risk) approaches Mary. She’s a dancer from the club who’s spent thousands of dollars to look like Betty Boop.
BeatressAmerican Mary
Beatress wants Mary to help her friend, Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg), become more doll-like and offers Mary $10,000 to perform the surgery. This draws Mary into the world of extreme body modification.
Mary continues with her residency and is invited to a party with other surgeons, including her former professor, Dr. Alan Grant (David Lovgren).
Thankfully, not this Dr. Grant.

Thankfully, not this Dr. Grant.

Dr. Grant drugs Mary and brutally rapes her. Mary pays Billy to have his enforcers kidnap Dr. Grant. She drops out of medical school and practices extreme body modification on Dr. Grant.
Mary opens an underground practice performing extreme body modifications on people, which culminates in her performing surgery on the Demon Twins of Berlin (The Soska Twins, in a cameo).
The movie is basically Mary’s journey and I’m not giving away the ending because you have to go watch this right now.
I love when horror fans make horror movies because it’s like we all speak in the code of shared movies. It’s fun to unravel this code.
The movie opens with intense closeups of Mary suturing something that we eventually realize is a turkey, with “Ave Maria” playing the background. This feels very like something you’d see in the Hannibal movie.
When Mary is at her office, she wears a black apron over a white shirt. She wears something similar when she practices on Dr. Grant. It feels very similar to Asami’s outfit in Audition.

There’s the surgical outfit that Mary wears when she operates on the Twins. It’s very reminiscent of Dead Ringers.
This movie just feels very personal, but that may reflect on my age and status in the world. i remember looking at the stripper ads in college and wondering if I should try it. What kept me from doing it is remembering that I hate absolutely everyone and I dance like Elaine Benes. I think a lot of us know the pain of being so desperately poor when we’re just trying to make the right life decisions to not be poor.
There’s definitely the pain of seeing Mary being devalued and degraded just because she’s an attractive, competent woman. She views herself as a colleague of her professors and they repay her with abuse. Billy, when he first meets Mary, is also completely vile and gross. It isn’t until Billy sees what Mary’s capable of that he treats her with any respect.
And there’s the pain as a woman where your outside doesn’t match your inside. I actually really liked Beatress and could relate a lot to her and Ruby Realgirl. We live in a world where if they had gotten mainstream plastic surgery they’d be celebrated for being so in control of their bodies, but anything alternative is laughed at. Plus, I legitimately understand being drawn to the cute aesthetic. I think I’m the only white person ever who’s tried eyelid tape to try to make their eyes look bigger.
There’s this really touching moment that I really loved, between Mary and Lance (Twan Holliday), one of Billy’s enforcers. Lance says to Mary, “Don’t you ever devalue what you do, Mary.” He then tells her about how his mom walked in on a home invasion burglary and how he wishes he knew Mary then. Mary becomes a monster but she’s a kind of benign monster. Maybe sometimes the world needs monsters, to get rid of the other monsters.
The movie is pretty much the right mix of gore and humor. The effects are practical, which I appreciate a lot, especially for an indie movie. If a practical effect goes wrong it can definitely cost you time and money, so I respect the risk they took using them. Plus, they look great and gross! Tristan Risk looks especially awesome as Beatress.
I especially liked the music. The movie starts with a simple version of “Ave Maria” and this increases in complexity as the movie proceeds. It’s like it’s reflecting the increasing complexity of Mary’s character.
“Unique” is the word that comes to mind when I think of this movie. I can’t think of any movie that’s quite like this and it has to be one of my favorite 21st century movies.


About scarina

I like scary movies a little too much. I thought I'd share my obsession with you.
This entry was posted in 21st century, body horror, thriller and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to American Mary

  1. Bryant Belknap says:

    I’m sold! Thanks for a great review. I’m really looking forward to seeing this movie now.

  2. Freddie Jaye says:

    I caught this one on Netflix and agree with your assessment. As a double-amputee and organ recipient myself, I can relate to the pain and recovery involved in major surgeries. That’s a primary reason for my sorta squeamish reaction to her “practicing” on Dr. Grant. Plus, I suspect Mary was kinda stingy with anesthesia.

    You make an interesting point, too, about the perception of normal vs. extreme surgeries. I think there’s a fine line between getting silicone implants to blow up four or five cup sizes and getting implants to attain “devil horns” — both represent the insertion of foreign objects, but one is celebrated while the other is abhorred.

    Altogether, an intriguing and provocative film.

    • scarina says:

      Thanks for the insight! I’ve never had surgery before, that’s actually something I’m rather afraid of. The idea of someone having control over my body just gives me the shivers. Plus, I know surgery has evolved a lot over time but there’s something inherently brutal over what happens. You know Mary had to be stingy as hell with the anesthesia. What’s it like getting a new organ? I’m not particularly aware of any of the organs in my body, does it feel different? Do you feel different having something that isn’t originally yours?
      Agreed. I wonder if the increased acceptance and popularity of sci-fi and fantasy in our media will lead to more people trying these modifications and if they’ll become more accepted. I’ve been pierced & have a tattoo, but I never really considered surgical alteration until maybe within the last five years. I’m not into Betty Boop but I definitely understand the urge to be cute and sweet, it’s a huge part of my fashion aesthetic. I’ve wondered how far I’d go to pursue it. There’s this model, Allison Harvard, who has the hugest eyes I’ve ever seen on a human being. I’d love to get something like that done.
      Anyway, it’s very thought-provoking.

  3. I watched it last night. I really enjoyed it! Just a couple of thoughts about it. First, I thought Katharine Isabelle reminded me of someone many times throughout the film. Then it hit me: Carolyn Jones (of the Addams Family TV show). I Googled and while the similarity wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, there are still certain scenes where Ms Isabelle has that Morticia Addams look about her.

    I also liked the “don’t devalue yourself” scene very much. It was very touching, and I thought a nice departure from the sorts of things you’ll find in most horror films.

    ***** Spoiler Below *****

    Really the only thing that bothered me about the movie was near the end, with the flashback “I didn’t know she had a boyfriend.” I kind of felt devalued as a viewer! Like I was too dumb to remember that bit. Heck, when Mary said that, I said to myself “uh-oh!” and was waiting for a confrontation. I got one!

    • scarina says:

      I think she’d be more Morticia-y without the bangs.
      Honestly, I don’t even remember the boyfriend comment. Oops! 9.9 That’s a good point, though.

  4. This flick actually took a few viewings till it really sank in. I had some online correspondence with the Soskas to clear up a few things I was struggling with. They were very sweet about answering my questions. It is one of the more unique horrors out in some time. Loved your comparison with the surgical outfits from Audition and Dead Ringers. As a film geek I’m embarrassed to say that went right over my head. Nice review!

    • scarina says:

      I really need to own this movie, I feel like I could benefit from repeat viewings. I love the Soskas, they’re so cool to their fanbase. I love when creators are like that.
      Thanks! Well, if it’s any comfort I haven’t seen Dead Ringers. I know about the surgical outfits because I’m a Hannibal fan. Do you watch that show? Season 2 had a surgery scene inspired by Dead Ringers so I recognized it when I saw American Mary.

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