American Mary: Film Review

American Mary One Sheet - P 2013
This ragged, low-budget horror film fails to live up to the potential of its creepy premise.

This horror film by sibling filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska deals with the underground world of body modification.

If Ryan Murphy had crossed over his television series Nip/Tuck with his American Horror Story for a very special episode, the results would resemble American Mary, the latest effort by Jen and Sylvia Soska, otherwise known as “The Twisted Twins.” The sibling directors certainly live up to their moniker with this gross-out tale centered on the supposedly burgeoning underground culture of body modification.

The title character, played by Katharine Isabelle (no stranger to the genre, after her starring roles in the Ginger Snaps horror films), is a young medical student whose need for money leads her to pursue a gig as a stripper. It turns out that her talents lie less with unveiling her well-proportioned body than in providing emergency medical care to the club’s more unlucky patrons.

One of the witnesses to Mary’s medical intervention is Beatress (Tristan Risk), who, in one of the film’s creepiest conceits, has had herself surgically modified to look exactly like Betty Boop. Requesting Mary’s services for yet another procedure, she introduces the financially desperate medical student to a bizarre world in which people will pay big money to endure such operations as removing sex organs, splitting a tongue in two and -- for a pair of lesbian sisters (played by the filmmakers) -- conjoining them into Siamese twins.

Eventually, Mary’s lucrative practice takes an even darker turn after she’s sexually assaulted by her abusive medical supervisor (David Lovgren) and decides to take a particularly nasty form of revenge, making full use of her newly honed skills.

The film’s relatively novel premise is certainly a refreshing change of pace from the glut of horror films dealing with vampires, werewolves and endless serial killers. But its co-directors -- who made a name for themselves with their less subtly titled debut effort Dead Hookers in a Trunk -- don’t have the technical chops to be playing in territory previously exploited by the likes of David Cronenberg and Pedro Almodovar, not to mention such early classics as Eyes Without a Face.

Featuring murky visuals, an even murkier narrative that lamely sputters to its conclusion and frequently amateurish performances -- the effectively low-key Isabelle is a notable exception -- the film never explores its undeniably disturbing issues with enough thematic depth to compensate for its ragged execution.

Opens May 31 (XLrator Media)

Production: American Mary Productions, Evolution Pictures

Cast: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, David Lovgren, Paula Lindberg, Clay St. Thomas, John Emmet Tracy, Twan Holliday, Nelson Wong, Sylvia Soska, Jen Soska

Directors/screenwriters: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska

Producers: Evan Tylor, John Curtis

Executive producers: Kathryn Griffiths, Tom Raycove, Angela Towle, Riaz Tyab

Director of photography: Brian Pearson

Editor: Bruce MacKinnon

Production designer: Tony Devenyi

Costume designer: Jayne Mabbott

Composer: Peter Allen

Rated R, 103 min.