American Mary (18)

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Review byMatthew Turner11/01/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 103 mins

Enjoyably twisted, stylishly directed horror tale with an engaging, original script and a tremendous central performance from Katharine Isabelle.

What's it all about?
Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska (aka the Soska Sisters or the Twisted Twins), American Mary stars Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) as Mary Mason, a gifted but impoverished medical student who becomes an underground surgeon for the extreme body modification community after strip-club owner Billy (Antonio Cupo) offers her a large amount of money to patch up a severely injured gangster and word gets around regarding her particular set of skills. At the same time, Mary undergoes a traumatic experience at the hands of her arrogant tutor, Doctor Grant (David Lovgren), so she decides to use her newly-learned surgical techniques to exact a fitting revenge.

The Good
Katharine Isabelle is terrific as Mary, creating a strong female character who's truly fascinating and quite unlike anything else you'll see all year. There's also strong support from both Cupo and Lovgren, while Tristan Risk makes a striking impression as Beatress Johnson, Mary's lead-in to the body modification community, who's had multiple surgeries so that she resembles Betty Boop. In addition, the Soska Sisters themselves contribute an amusing cameo as a pair of German twins who want Mary to swap their arms so they'll feel closer to each other.

The film is extremely stylish, thanks to some impressive set design work (both Mary's apartment and the strip-club are all done over in lush reds) and Brian Pearson's striking cinematography. In addition, the script is brimming with ideas and the Soska Sisters manage to both celebrate and explore the world of body modification, despite some potentially off-putting visuals; Beatress, for example, though initially unsettling to look at, turns out to be Mary's most reliable friend, while several real-life members of the body modification community contribute enthusiastic and frequently amusing cameos (needless to say, there's a lot of very dark humour in the film).

The Bad
The main problem is that the film loses focus in the second half, with characters abandoned and scenes feeling disjointed and unfinished; if this is meant to be reflective of Mary's deteriorating mental state, then this idea isn't quite presented clearly enough. On top of that, John Emmett Tracey's performance as an investigating cop is extremely poor and threatens to bring every scene he's in to a crashing halt (fortunately, he's only in a handful of scenes).

Worth seeing?
American Mary is an impressively directed, bracingly original horror flick with a terrific central performance from Katharine Isabelle. Highly recommended.

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American Mary (18)
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Content updated: 26/09/2015 07:55

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