When talking about up and coming names in the horror genre these days, it’s hard not to hear about two Canadian sisters named Jen and Sylvia Soska. Their debut feature Dead Hooker In A Trunk was embraced by grindhouse fans with open arms, being called an independent cult classic in the making, and many big names in horror are predicating the brightest of futures for the two filmmakers. But with all this hype surrounding the Soska sisters, could their latest film American Mary deliver the goods?
Admittedly, when I caught American Mary the first time around during its limited release (which I reviewed for this very site), I didn’t find that much to get excited about. The Soska sisters no doubt proved themselves savvy directors with a keen eye for dementedly visceral visual filmmaking, but their crazed look into the underground world of body modification lacked any real horror and ended up forcing a story that felt underdeveloped. But out of fairness and for the sake of re-evaluation, I decided to tackle the Blu-Ray release of Mary’s exploits just in case a second viewing opened my eyes to anything different.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, American Mary follows a med student (Katharine Isabelle) whose life starts to veer off track after discovering first-hand that the world of surgery isn’t as magical as she’d hoped. Desperate for money and disenchanted by the whole idea, Mary starts to use her skills in the underground surgery ring, and eventually ends up focusing on body modification procedures. Becoming somewhat of a sensation, Mary embraces her new lifestyle and meets a colorful cast of clients, but soon finds out there are also dangers surrounding the game she’s now playing.
But the game was just as bland this time around for me, simply confirming my previously stated thoughts. If you want my real, in-depth review, follow the link above, because I’m going to keep it shorter here. No reason to re-state what’s been said already, right?
While Katharine Isabelle displays a strong performance and Tristan Risk delivers a cartoon worthy role as a body modder who turns herself into Betty Boop, Mary’s journey is one that seems all too forced to fall in love with. A lot of hype built Mary to be this super-feminist horror hero figure, promoting her independence and grip on her own situation, but our main character’s arc was more self-indulgent than heroic – at least to me. Sure, the Soska sisters crafted a story which would lead to many encounters with strange body modification clients wanting batshit operations done (including a cameo by the Soska sisters themselves), but aside from the vivid imagery our director siblings capture, Mary didn’t carry the poignant heroics so many praised.
To save a little time, I’m going to grab a paragraph from my original review that pretty much sums up my feelings, and then move on to the Blu-Ray related features:
American Mary is surely a psychotic look into the world of body modification, but flat-lines all too quickly to engage audiences completely. It felt almost as unnecessary as some of the procedures Mary performed, albeit with some flashy moments of modifying fun. Katharine Isabelle just didn’t get enough to work with for her character Mary, getting stuck somewhere between emotionless and bitchy, and her actions don’t carry much clout either. I mean, seriously, since when is deleting someone’s contact from your iPhone a moving gesture to suggest they’ve passed on? Sorry Soska sisters, you’ve got some serious style, but American Mary is lacking ever-important substance.
Forgetting my qualms with the Soska’s cinematic quality, American Mary does look crisp playing with Blu-Ray quality. Mixing that with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio provided the perfect atmosphere for club scenes and operations, but I would have appreciated a little more gore from the Soska sisters to really enjoy the clean presentation. For a movie about body modification, I actually felt underwhelmed by what was shown on camera. It’s still an incredibly clean watch though, and one that fans of the film should absolutely add to their collection, especially considering my skin was crawling during the surgical montage that plays during our title sequence.
As far as special features are concerned, here’s what we’ve got:
- A “Making Of” Featurette
- Audio Commentary Featuring The Soska Sisters Katharine Isabelle, And Tristan Risk
Following suit with my feelings about American Mary, the special features underwhelmed me in a way that was only made worse by watching the behind the scenes footage that is our “Making Of” glance into the Soska sister’s process. What could have been a really cool look into their directorial mechanics played just like a few cut-together fly-on-the-wall moments that simply watch some filming take place without any explanation. Sure, we get a sense of the Soskas as people, like witnessing funny moments of them having to explain how to do a proper “jerk off” motion, but aside from that, there’s no real value to the featurette.
But that’s all? You’ve got the audio commentary also, which provides enough entertainment for those people who actually turn it on, but I felt a little ripped off that we weren’t given any special features about body modification. The Soska’s dealings with the topic is one thing, but it would have been really fun to see the real world of body modifications and get a documentary style look at some of the real-life designs that inspired American Mary. Eh, more wasted potential that could have revealed a world so many people aren’t even aware of.
American Mary is a film with loads of potential, a crazed concept which fits the Soska sister’s eccentric repertoire, a strong actress in Katharine Isabelle, but none of the cohesion to bring all those different portions together. There’s a goal and an endpoint our filmmakers obviously want to reach, coupled with a want to gross us out with surgical horror, but the resolution is one that’s ignored for most of the film, only to surface within the final act as if someone frantically remembered “Uh, isn’t this film supposed to wrap up soon?”
Trust me, if you didn’t enjoy American Mary the first time around, this bare bones Blu-Ray won’t change your mind, but if you fell head-over-heels for “one of the most fascinating female-themed horror stories in years,” the Soska sister’s second feature will provide a clean watch you can proudly display in your horror collection.