The Soska Sisters’ ambitious yet flawed debut feature Dead Hooker in a Trunk was just enough to get their feet in the door, something we can all be pretty grateful for considering the impressive cult legend that is their second feature film: American Mary.
Katharine Isabelle stars as Mary, a dedicated and gifted young medical student struggling to make ends meet. After she responds to a Job advert for a local strip joint she is forced to use her skills in shady circumstance for the club owner. The result is $5000 and the promise she will keep her mouth shut. Soon, news of Mary’s skills reaches the black market and she begins to spiral into an underworld of people infatuated with body modification. Whatever needs done “Bloody Mary” can do… for a price.
Everything that was perhaps amateur about Dead Hooker is sorted in American Mary, a film that is, for all its guts and glory, a fairly muted affair centred around a great principal idea. That’s no said to muddy the sisters’ use of gore (since this is a film at points dripping with the stuff) but the strong point is in the fact it doesn’t rush into being a horror film. At the very least that it doesn’t seem too interested in being a conformist piece of slash-happy Friday night fun. Too often Indy horror dwindles in the plot department letting any terror miss-fire since we don’t actually give a shit about what’s going on. Here the Twisted Twins have parodied American ideals, hinting that the macabre side of life is almost unavoidable in this: a film that narrates the collision point of sex, money, and the American Dream.
Isabelle is largely to thank for the success of the film, having spent plenty of time being fodder for serial killers (Freddy vs. Jason comes nostalgically to mind) she gets a shot at being an unexpected but formidable force. A careful balance of stone-cold calculating and human guilt hedges in the possibility of the ridiculous. If there’s any gripe about her performance it’s that she’s not given enough scenes to explore the more guilt-ridden side of Mary.
Very quickly the film reveals a slick black heart wrapped in blood, mayhem, and sex. The Soska’s obviously have a direction they want to take their own brand of visceral charm, but at times this seems too recycled. Moments that should have been truly deranged are lost in translation, the shock factor reined in by repetition. Cult imagery rears its triumphant head at numerous points, proving the Soska’s have the capacity for impressive mise en scene. An example? Isabelle decked in stripper-wear performing surgery in a strip club basement jumps to mind first. It’s the sort of thing that sticks in your head.
Plot-wise the film is pretty fluid, a nice birth-of-the-monster origin story makes the first half a hoot, but there seems to be some trouble with which direction to take the film in once Mary is taken advantage of. The revenge idea is great and certainly gives the film drive, but act two just seems a little bare, add this to the out-of-nowhere ending and the film seems to degrade slightly from its strong opening.
American Mary takes the passion and rage of a revenge film mixes it with modern gothic, anchors it with a great central performance, wraps the whole sordid affair in a slick and black shiny wrapping then lets it spin into an urban legend. Perhaps the spinning goes a little too far out of control and some wobbly decisions leave the film on a downer, but at this rate of improvement the Twisted Twins’ next piece should be genius.
Dir. The Soska Sisters
Stars. Katherine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, Clay St Thomas