I know that I have reviewed these films within the last few months, but I think these two unconventional films that both deal with a lead female character with an interest/skills in surgery and the disturbing stories within which our leading ladies find themselves in, make for a very provocative and chilling Saturday night combo…
AMERICAN MARY (2013)
Flick tells the interesting story of pretty med student, Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle) who, when in need of cash, finds herself getting accidentally involved with illegal surgery and body modification. But it’s not till she is drugged and raped at a party by her arrogant pervert of a professor (David Lovgren) that Mary’s skills get put to horrifying use and her inner Frankenstein is unleashed.
American Mary is intriguing, but never fully decides what it is really about to make it completely captivating, or gets truly twisted enough to make it cult film material. This Canadian flick written and directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska (who also play twins in the movie) has a nice visual style and some very gruesome moments, but never really grabs us completely or shocks us enough to solidify itself the cult status it aims for. The cast is decent and there are a few interesting and eccentric characters, but lead Katherine Isabelle, who was so good in Ginger Snaps, plays Mary with a bit of an emotional detachment for the most part or maybe a bit too low key. With all that befalls Mary, the tone of the character seems to remain the same despite that her life gets sent in disturbing directions and the changes it makes to her. She’s still good, but there should have been a bit more of a difference between Jekyll and Hyde. It would have made more impact. But Isabelle is a good actress and maybe it’s not her fault as she is not given a lot of time to develop Mary before the story sets in motion, so we don’t really see the changes in the character as the film progresses. Perhaps the Soskas get things moving too quickly and as Mary gets drawn in deeper and deeper into this bizarre world, we haven’t gotten to know her well enough to really add resonance to her life’s sudden macabre twist and the changes that occur within her. After her brutal rape, we can understand her emotional shut down, but even before that she seems to adjust a bit too quickly, despite the absurdity of what she’s asked to do and after, her cruel revenge seems to come a bit too easily. After the story events that have the most impact on Mary occur, the moments the Soskas give us to experience what Mary is feeling are all too brief and don’t sink in properly and that robs us of appreciating the true gravity of her transformation from down-on-her-luck med student to illegal body modification diva to sadistic murderer. I’m not saying what occurs doesn’t have any effectiveness, it does. But we needed a little more time with Mary at those transformation points to really appreciate what’s happened to her. To a degree Mary seems likable, but we never really get truly emotionally involved as she embraces her dark and sadistic side or begins to revel at being a rock star of underground body modification surgery…and we should in order to give the story the weight it needs to elevate it to something unique and special. There’s just something missing. The Soskas seem to be far more interested in who Mary is to become and forget that we need to know her better as who she is first to appreciate that.
I won’t take away that this is an original story in a genre filled with remakes and sequels and it still held my interest throughout despite it’s flaws. This real segment of society has never really been touched on in films and we wish the Soska’s would also have delved even deeper into this sect of people that see their bodies as ever evolving canvases and physically alter them through illegal surgery such as Mary provides. There are also a few story lines going on during American Mary and none get fully developed, such as what is going on between Mary and strip club owner Billy (Antonio Cupo), who first hires her to perform an illegal surgery. A partnership/relationship between them then forms that the parameters of which are never really made clear. And then there’s the bond between Mary and Lance the bouncer (Twan Holliday) that I would like to have seen more of. And that’s what restrains American Mary, it is an interesting story with some equally interesting ideas that never gets fully developed enough to really get our complete attention or becomes bizarre and twisted enough to make it more memorable…though it has it’s moments. Worse still, the ending feels forced and sudden as if the Soska’s didn’t know where to go with Mary’s story at that point and add a plot contrivance to wrap things up in a bloody bow. It’s abrupt and not very satisfying.
An intriguing diversion and a nicely original story idea that’s worth a look and has it’s effectiveness, but could have been much more with a little more development of the story and it’s lead character. In conclusion, I did like it and find it intriguing, but it is a flawed film as much as an interesting one…and if anything, I’ve re-watched it a few times and it has made me second guess my feelings about it and the film at least deserves credit for that.
A generous 3 bones saws!
Richard Bates Jr. writes and directs this original, trippy and really disturbing horror/drama about emotionally troubled teen, Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) who escapes from her repressive mother (Traci Lords) by immersing herself in an interest in surgery complete with gruesome and bizarre fantasies. But fantasy and reality may collide as the disturbed Pauline grows desperate to win her distant mother’s love and plots to do so by saving her little sister, Grace (Ariel Winter) from her cystic fibrosis in the only way her demented mind sees possible.
Not only does Bates weave a drama that mixes with equal parts horror, but also gets great performances out of McCord, who really surprised me with how well she disappeared into Pauline’s demented ugly duckling persona, and Lords, who shines as her overbearing mother. It’s the performances all around that really make this haunting, off-center and sometimes gruesome character study really work. He also vividly creates the fantasies inside Pauline’s head and makes them both visually beautiful and highly disturbing at the same time. It gives us a chilling idea of just how unhinged this high school outcast really is.
Not for everyone, but for those who don’t mind something different and unnerving, this is a really good watch. Also features appearances by Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise, Marlee Matlin and John Waters.
3 solid bone saws!