This is going to be an interesting one. A horror movie that isn’t found footage!? A horror movie that’s not a sequel or remake!? A horror movie with a plot and characters!? No wonder this only got a limited theatrical release. American Mary is the second film by the Soska twins whose prior film was a student project called “Dead Hooker in a Trunk” so that might give us a clue of what we’re in for with this one. Is their sophomore effort any good? Keep reading to find out!
The movie starts with what appears to be chicken surgery while that one classical song from Hitman Blood Money plays in the background. We meet our hero Mary who is stitching chickens together for some reason, and we go from this odd scene to her in a classroom where her cellphone goes off which is EXACTLY what the teacher was waiting for. The classroom is dead quiet with the professor just writing stuff on the board, so when the phone goes *ding* he jumps at the opportunity to yell at someone.
Of course, his bluster is deflated somewhat when she knows the answer to every question he asks, proving once again that even smart people have fucking cell phones. Still, even when she tries to apologies, the teacher has a real haughty and superior attitude, so let’s hope he gets his just deserts at some point. After that we learn that she has financial problems despite the fact that she lives in a pretty bitching apartment. Her plan is to whore herself out which I honestly don’t have an issue with, but this being a MOVIE leads me to think that shit’s about to go REALLY bad for her. She finds an ad on ‘NOT craigslist’ and heads to the strip club for her interview, her resume in tow because… honestly I would also assume that a strip club would need one. The owner is pretty sleazy, but everything seems to be above board. During the interview process which includes her showing her underwear and giving him a back massage, one of the bouncers runs in and tells the owner there’s a problem. After the owner talks to the bouncer, he comes back to Mary and since she’s in medical school to become a surgeon, he offers her a no questions asked job for five grand. Mary takes the job, and finds out that some druggie in the basement got fucked up.
We skip over the part where Mary actually fixes him up and go straight to her apartment where she starts crying in the shower. I’m not sure why. Granted, I’ve never been in a situation where I had to perform impromptu surgery, but she presumably did well considering she got paid, so what is she upset about? She saved someone’s life damn it! The next scene is a montage of her sitting on the couch with a baseball bat, so maybe she’s paranoid about gangsters beating down her door. Maybe her fears a justified because some woman who sounds like Betty Boop calls her asking for “Doctor Mason” (that’s Mary’s last name). After ignoring the calls for a bit, Mary shows just how sharp witted she is when she gets buzzed about needing to sign a package by a woman with a VERY distinctive voice, and she decides to buzz her in and tell her what apartment number she lives in. Sure enough, Betty Boop comes strolling on in and starts asking for Mary’s help. Also, did you think I was making those Betty Boop comments lightly!?
So apparently this rich lady (Beatress) has had several surgeries to try and get herself to look like the animated flapper, but has a friend who wants a surgery that no one is willing to perform. With ten grand on the line, Mary decides to take the job despite not knowing exactly what it is. She doesn’t find out until she meets the friend in question (Ruby) who wants to look just like a doll, and therefore asks Mary to, and I quote: “Take these off, and seal up this as much as possible.”
After taking a second to think it over, Mary goes through with the surgery and gives the lady what she wants. I have a hard time believing that no doctor would be willing to do this, and that it had to be done by a med student in a god damn veterinarian center, but despite that I find this to be a very fascinating premise. I have no idea how realistic the portrayals of the characters are, but despite the fact that I don’t understand why they would want this, I’m kind of glad that SOMEONE is willing to help them out. That said, this seems ABSURDLY dangerous, especially considering that this kid isn’t even a graduate.
She lets Beatrice know the surgery went well and politely asks to not be contacted again. After that, she goes back home, throws up, and attends her residency the next day. In a rather dickish move, the teacher (different from the earlier one) tells her to tell this family the father had a heart attack, and then when she gets back tells her to tell them he actually died. The fuck man!? Not only that, but Mary isn’t told any damn details about what happened which could be PRETTY useful when the family asks “what happened?”
During her break, she goes to her car and finds Beatrice waiting there with a gift from Ruby. Mary is trying (and failing) to hide her anger, but Beatrice remains nice throughout and recommends that she check out Ruby’s website. After the break, her professor asks her to attend a get together later with other surgeons, putting on his best date-rape smile.
Later that day, she finds out that the gift is a wonderful dress, and she decides to check out Ruby’s website. She sees a bit more of the body mod community and seems rather unsure about it. After that, she heads to the part wearing the new dress, and then proceeds to be chatted up by her teachers, each handing her glass upon glass of liquor. She starts to get dizzy and gets dragged into the back room.
I feel no need to describe in detail what happens next, but I’m sure I don’t need to. The tone of this movie is hard to get a bead on at this point. My guess is that by showing all the normal people to either be sleaze bags or rapists, it will be easier for us to prefer to spend time with the body mod community. I have two problems with this. The first is that it seems really fucking unnecessary to go this far. Do the film makers think we would need THIS awful of an alternative for us to be on the side of those who get body modifications? There are real people who live this life every day, and I’m sure they already deal with enough shit. Having a movie damn them with faint praise (at least you’re not rapists!) isn’t very helpful. Second, the movie uses the rape as the inciting action for her to start doing this kind of work full time. Because of how most films work, anytime a woman makes a decision after getting hurt, it’s always a poor one and needs to be either corrected or punished by the end. Again, I don’t know anything about the body modification community, but I can’t help but think that this is going in a REALLY bad direction. The only reason she considering doing this full time is because she’s now damaged!? What the fuck is this movie trying to say? Is body modification supposed to be a weird exotic thing that only damaged people would get into?
Anyway, we do get a really spectacular scene where she calls up the owner of the strip club and pays him five grand to capture the fucker who raped her, and if you’ve ever seen Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, then you have a good idea of what’s about to come.
We cut to presumably some time later where she’s running an illegal clinic out of her apartment for people wanting surgery. It’s also a place that’s so HARDCORE that people are brought in with bags over their head. Isn’t this cool and exotic and kind of scary but in a fun way!?
I don’t know. The people are shown as outcasts, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it reminds me of when gay men are portrayed as being great decorators or are experts in fashion. There’s nothing wrong with those characteristics, but if we know nothing else about them then it’s just an offensive stereotype. Sure, Barbara and Ruby were interesting and had some dimension, but the movie seems to completely go away from that interpretation of the culture to instead focus on this sort of hardcore, punk, damaged mentality.
After that, we find out that the cops are looking for the teacher who Mary took care of and ask her some questions.
After that, she goes back to the strip club and does a routine to a song that has the lyrics “I hate myself”.
Wait… it turns out that it was a fantasy from the sleazy club owner. Okay… thanks?
It turns out that Mary was there to pick up Beatrice (who works there despite being rich) who informs her about a possible job. Mary accepts and waits in the strip club for her clients to arrive. They turn out to be twins (played by the directors of this film, Jen and Sylvia Soska) who have corset piercings across their backs. They go into the strip club; one of them makes out with a stripper and proceeds to bite the shit out of her tongue.
Again, we can’t just have these characters be into a niche community, they have to be assholes as well. Now it’s hard to care for whatever their plight is that would require surgery to fix. It turns out that they want Mary (who now has the nickname Bloody Mary, of course) to cut off their left arms, and then switch them so that they will always have a part of the other. They also want another surgery that we don’t know about because Mary won’t show the piece of paper to us yet, and she needs help with this unknown procedure. They find some German dude to help, and the surgery begins.
I’m still not quite sure what the extra surgery was. It seems that she added horns, but other than that, I’m not sure. The picture doesn’t help much either.
In the next scene, we find out that Mary didn’t actually kill the first teacher, and what she HAS been doing to him is pretty freaking gruesome. How gruesome? I’m not going to show a picture, but think of Audition and you’ll have the basic idea. Another thing that bothers me is that she takes pictures of him for her new website which I assume will be a body mod site. Yes! I’m sure that people in the body mod community would like to see pictures of a man being tortured to death! Because that’s what they are into. The effects in this scene are top notch and very effective, and despite how bad this guy gets it, you still root for Mary to get her revenge. Except she doesn’t! Some security guard out of nowhere comes up and smacks her over the head. He didn’t count on her being able to handle a smack to the head though, which means she gets back up and does the job right.
We also see the sleazy club owner asphyxiate the SECOND teacher (the one who invited Mary to the party). After that we see Ruby again whose boyfriend has just arrived. She takes off her clothes in front of him, and it seems to come as a shock to the boyfriend who looks like he’s about to choke a bitch before the scene ends. After that, Mary is back in the strip club with the bouncer from earlier, and they talk for a bit. Something about his grandma and an umbrella. Some time passes, and she opens up a new studio to take pictures of clients and perform surgeries in a safer (if not any more legal) environment). The cop is on her ass about the second former teacher to disappear. I had to laugh at this one bit where the detective is all concerned about her and want to help her by having her confess to two premeditated murders.
The cop’s got nothing, so he leaves without a fight but Mary isn’t too happy to hear about this, so she goes to the strip club to confront the owner. She finds him getting a blow job from some woman (this will be relevant in a bit), and after she leaves they discuss what happened. He admits to killing the guy but she seems okay with it and leaves him be. She then proceeds to the women’s bathroom, and tries to murder the woman giving the owner a blow job (I told you). She decides not to at the last second, and we then see the sleazy owner (who if you couldn’t tell already, is obsessed with Mary) jerking off to footage of that chaste back rub she gave him at the beginning of the movie. Mary comes in and stabs the motherfucker in the stomach for some reason.
No wait… that was another fantasy of the club owner. Fair enough. We cut to an ACTUAL meeting of them later, presumable on a different night because she’s wearing different clothes. She asks him if he thinks she’s crazy. Despite clearly looking terrified he says no.
It also turns out that Beatrice quit which is pretty disappointing considering she was one of the best things in this movie. The sleazy club owner makes an awkward attempt to ask her on a date (some sort of trip across California), but she declines it with the classic “I’ll think about it.” Oh, I think this might be the first time we find out the guy’s name is Billy. That or I didn’t pay close enough attention.
After that, it turns out that we haven’t seen the last of Beatrice! She calls Mary and she’s covered in blood. Apparently Ruby’s boyfriend is SUPER DUPER pissed and decides the best course of action is to kill her, Beatrice, and then Mary. Of course, the guy materializes behind Mary between shots, and she gets stabbed. The guy doesn’t appear to have a plan beyond that (maybe stab her again?) so Mary turns around, grabs the knife, and stabs the shit out of him. She crawls to her operating room and tries to perform surgery on herself. Before we know her fate, we cut the cops searching her apartment, finding the dead guy and all her body mod paraphernalia. She’s found dead in her operating room, and the movie ends with a slowly ascending shot of her dead body before cutting to black.
I’m really having a hard time with this movie. On the one hand, I find it kind of offensive that they portray getting raped as a gateway into the body modification community, and that it’s only a hair away from jerking off to Saw movies. On the other hand, I’m in no position to tell someone how a community that I barely know about should be portrayed on film. This movie starts off by giving us interesting characters who are in need of help and are being denied it by the world, but then the movie switches gears and turns into a movie about a serial killer who’s surrounded by one dimensional caricatures of what some people must think that body mod people look like. Then again, it’s not like I have a working knowledge of the community’s fashion, and the few pictures I have seen mostly line up with what the movie portrays (albeit somewhat more extreme in places). Then again AGAIN, it’s not like we see these people do ANYTHING else besides act fetishistic. Do the twins constantly wear leather suits and do the “mimicking each other’s movements” thing, or is this what they do for fun on the weekends?
Honestly? There are people much smarter than me who can tell you about that aspect of the film and whether or not anything in here is offensive or done in ignorance. Outside of all that? The film is well shot, the gore is effective and realistic, and the premise is very interesting. The actors do a good job, though I thought that the actress playing Mary delivered her lines in too much of a monotone in a couple scenes of the movie. The ending feels really weak, but other than that it’s an above average horror flick that has some content that may or may not be questionable (not my area of expertise). If you’re tired of the generic horror films that have been swarming the multiplexes, this is definitely a fresh alternative that you should check out.