American Mary

Year: 2012
Production Co: IndustryWorks Pictures
Director: Jen Soska/Sylvia Soska
Writer: Jen Soska/Sylvia Soska
Cast: Katharine Isabelle

The plot of Canadian horror wunderkinds the Soska sisters might not be as interesting as the subtext, because after the first half sets up a halfway decent horror thriller it broadens out into less focused statement about a way of life.

The Soska's usual collaborator Katharine Isabelle is Mary, a financially struggling meidcal student who's being reprimanded by her stoic professor for not working hard enough and showing up to enough classes, all while her situation worsens.

Desperate for money, she applies to work in a strip bar, but when the slimy owner Billy gets wind of her medical background he makes an offer too good to refuse. A henchman is bought in badly banged up thanks to whatever shady side business the club is home to, and if Mary patches him up no questions asked, it'll mean five grand in cash.

Against her better judgment Mary accetps, spending the next week or so holed up in her apartment terrified of whatever repercussions she's sure are coming her way. Instead she gets a visit from Beatress (Tristan Risk), an extreme body modification enthusiast who's been remade into a creepy living embodiment of Betty Boop. She heard about Mary's job on Billy's enforcer and offers her an even more lucrative gig – make over Beatress' friend to remove any outward signs of gender identity (including removing her nipples and suturing her vagina shut) and they'll pay Mary a small fortune.

It puts her on a strange new path as a sought after surgeon who specilises in extreme body modification art. At the same time, newly confident of her studies after impressing her tutors, she's invitied to a swanky mixer at one of their flashy city pads. But Mary has no idea what's really in store for her. The teachers she thought she trusted drug and rape her, filming the whole thing for their sick amusement.

Horrified and violated, Mary drops out of school. But she's not finished with her former teacher, having Billy's goons take him prisoner and deliver him to her apartment where she gets her own back on him the only way she knows how, using her in-demand new skills.

From there it turns more info an alt-lifestyle manifesto, less concenred with completing the story it's set up. There's a nod to a mystery thriller in the form of the detective sniffing around looking into her former teacher's disappearance, but most of what's weaved throughout the second half is about the cool stuff the Soska sisters know about the world of extreme body mods.

There's a strong feminist message in there about how young women are treated in the world for only their sexuality and a strong message about self-agency and using your own body as a work of art as you see fit.

And like everything the Soska twins have made it's got a scrappy, handmade feel that's hard not to appreciate. You can see the rough edges around the script and Isabelle's performance, but all the blood and make-up effects look like they're in camera, which is always welcome in this day and age.

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