Horror fans are always looking for something new, and we’re always appreciative of anyone who can give us something more than nubile coeds screaming through the woods (to be fair, we like it when someone can do that well, too.) We’re also appreciative of underdog stories, edgy and provocative material and distinct, unique visions — all of which the terrific new film American Mary has in spades.
American Mary comes to us from sibling duo Jenn and Sylvia Soska, who run Twisted Twins Productions – because they’re twins who love horror, get it? Their first pic was an ultracheap, faux-grindhousy number called Dead Hooker In A Trunk, which was liked in quite a few cult film circles but also had many trading off on its rather obvious if unintended gimmick – it was a splatter film that happened to be made by a pair of hot, young identical twin sisters. Talk about a ready-made hook for myopic presshounds.
With American Mary, the Sisters Soska definitively prove they’re more than just a pair of pretty faces by delivering a film that is not only a quantum leap from the previous feature but also, without getting to hyperbolic about it, representative of one of the most exciting new voices in the genre. Eschewing genre clichés and easy pandering, this sophomore effort delivers a textured, engaging and original effort that should deservedly break out amongst the horror faithful.
And they were lucky enough, or smart enough, to get a meaty, knock-it-out-of-the-park performance from the talented and underrated actress Katherine Isabelle. Isabelle impressed a decade or so back in a little flick called Ginger Snaps, but no one really knew what to do with her talent – until now. She plays Mary Mason, a brilliant but poor med student whose search for additional funds leads her to applying for a job at a strip club…only for it to lead her to becoming one of the top surgeons in the extreme body modification underground which allows her to —
Actually, I shouldn’t spoil anymore but, suffice it to say, the movie goes into some surprising places. American Mary is horror by easy definition but the Soskas tumble through genres and moods under that umbrella with wild abandon, veering from pitch dark comedy to revenge to existential noir and even a touch of hardboiled romance, while keeping a tight rein on their script and delivering a coherent, idiosyncratic whole. Each step of the way they’re matched by the utterly mesmerizing Isabelle, who manages to be strong, smart, sexy, sarcastic, vulnerable and vicious; sometimes all at once. And one can’t go without at least heaping a little praise on a great little newcomer in Tristan Risk, who impresses as a sympathetic, Betty Boop obsessed body mod enthusiast.
American Mary isn’t perfect, and I have a few minor quibbles (such as a couple of rushed story beats) here an there but they’re just that – quibbles. In an age of remakes, sequels and ripoffs, one shouldn’t be too hard on a more than above average indie film that offers not only a whole unique experience but also the rise of a genuinely exciting new cinematic voice to watch out for.