"American Mary" is one of those horror films that everybody raves about. I've had so many people tell me that it's a great movie, that I decided to sit down and watch it for myself.
I'm not sure if it's the fact that it's a slasher film made by women, (namely the infamous Soska Sisters), or it's taboo topic of extreme body modification that made people fall in love with it. Many people find the film appealing because it's subversive; it puts some rather unsettling taboos right out there for everyone to see.
"American Mary" presented an extreme social taboo in a way that makes it fashionable in horror subcultures; much like the sado-masochistic bondage, and the religion of experiencing pain as pleasure that the Cenobites from Clive Barker's "Hellraiser" did in the 1980s.
Watching "American Mary" is like getting to play Peeping Tom into the perverted closet of a body modder that has a fetish for black vinyl, high heels, and skin tight latex catsuits. That is why I think that it's going to be an important movie of note in the future, and why it has already achieved it's cult classic status here in the United States.
Warning: Spoilers ahead! If you haven't watched the movie, stop reading now!
Mary Mason is a medical student who is struggling to pay her bills. When money gets really tight, Mary applies for a job at a strip club. When the owner, Billy Barker, discovers that she is studying to be a surgeon, he convinces her to help stitch up one of his men that was just attacked for several thousands of dollars. She does such a great job patching the guy up that she then gets hired on as a personal medic that Billy calls on from time to time when things get rough at his club.
Soon after, one of the strippers, a crazy gal named Beatrice who had plastic surgery to make herself look like Betty Boop (Yeah, I know. It looks just as bad as it sounds) approaches Mary and asks her to help out a friend of hers, called Ruby Realgirl, who can no longer get plastic surgeons to do work on her.
|Ruby Realgirl, the Living Barbie Doll|
Mary reluctantly agrees to perform radical surgery on Ruby because she offers to pay her a lot of money, enough to pay off most of her bills, and help her live comfortably for a while.
When asked why she wants it done, Ruby explains that she doesn't want to be seen as a sex object. She wants to have her labia and nipples removed so that she looks like a doll, because dolls are pure in her mind, and she wants nothing more than to be like one.
Then, in one of the squickiest scenes of the movie, we see Mary cutting off lady parts and dropping what appears to be the outermost bits of Ruby's genitalia onto the floor. She then removes her nipples and sews everything shut.
Mary stays up all night, completely freaked out because what she just did to that woman is irreversible, and this comes to haunt her later on in the movie.
To be honest with you, this part of the plot would've worked a little better if it weren't for the "surprise" reveal later on. But we'll get to that in a minute.
|Why does my lipstick match the booth cushion vinyl?|
Soon after taking on a few high paying, albeit illegal, surgical jobs, Mary is invited to a party by one of the top surgeons at the hospital she works at. There, she runs into Dr. Grant, one of her former professors, who also happens to be a total asshat who made her life a living hell while she was in his classes.
|Dr. Douchebag, Mary, and Dr. Asshat (Dr. Grant)|
It doesn't take long for Mary to realize that she was invited to a sex party. But before she can make a hasty retreat, Dr. Grant slips her a Mickey (GHB), which puts her in a total stupor and unable to fight him off as he rapes her. Mary had thought that she was finally being accepted by her peers, but it turns out she was only invited so that Dr. Grant could have his way with her.
This makes Mary snap. Whatever was left inside of her that was good, dies that night.
She has the thugs/armed muscle from the strip club (who also happen to become her personal bodyguards) kidnap Dr. Grant and it looks like once she gets her hands on him, she tortures and kills him.
Soon after, Mary drops out of med school, and becomes an full time surgeon who performs illegal operations on people who want extreme body modifications; from having horns implanted into their foreheads to hand amputation. Nothing is too extreme for her. Mary does it all.
Word of her skill gets out, and she gains attention of identical twin sisters that run a body modification magazine/website. And this is where the movie begins to fall apart like a poorly stitched together flesh wound.
The twins are played by the Soska Sisters, who have by now gained a name for themselves and their Twisted Twins Productions of slasher films.
The completely unnecessary of the cameos of the Soska Sisters playing the Gothic identical twins from some vague Eastern European nation that run a popular body modification ezine website was distracting at best, and annoying at worst; mainly because it was their characters involvement that convinces Mary to start putting her "work" on the Internet, and that is how Mary ends up losing her life.
Soon after meeting the wonder twins and swapping the sick sibling's limbs, it is revealed that Mary kept Dr. Grant alive, and that she had been performing extreme body modifications on Dr. Grant to get her revenge.
The pictures of her work that she shows to prospective clients, are actually pictures that she takes after torturing Dr. Asshat.
Mary performed countless irreversible body modifications on Dr. Grant, up to and including limb amputation. It is this plot twist that turns what could've been a very original body horror film into yet another piece of revenge filled torture porn.
Mary's biggest mistake is taking pictures of the doctor-turned-gimp and posting them on the Internet. This digital trail is how the detectives who are investigating the death of the surgeon (aka Dr. Douchebag) that invited Mary to the party stumble upon her highly illegal "operations."
It's also at this point when I started to wonder just what the hell the scriptwriter was doing with this one. It started out so good, but then turned into a different movie altogether. "Bloody Mary" went from a very interesting, quirky character with a penchant for surgery, to another wronged girl out to literally emasculate the man that raped her. Don't get me wrong. I think that Katharine Isabelle did a fantastic job as the titular role of Mary Mason. But even her top-notch acting couldn't save the end of the film.
The characters of Mary, Beatrice, and Ruby are intriguing and could've been used to great effect to make a movie an intense character study of the types of people who live in the perverse subculture of extreme body modification, but they instead are cast aside and then overshadowed by a glaring plot hole that completely ruins the movie.
My biggest problem with the last third of the movie is that all logic that was followed up until that point is thrown out the window. For someone trying to stay off the radar of the local police because she is making a ton of money by performing illegal, and sometimes irreversible body modification surgery on people without a medical license, Mary doesn't really try very hard to stay that hidden. She ends up having her own surgical theater built into her studio apartment, instead of keeping it at another location that isn't even remotely near where she lives like any other person who is doing such dangerous work.
Ultimately, the living doll Ruby's husband discovers that she's had drastic surgery done on her body, and he goes looking for the person that mutilated his wife.
He beats up Beatrice and finds out that it was Mary and follows her home. Once Mary walks into her apartment, he attacks her. She kills him, but, is too severely injured to live.
Mary's studio apartment set up, with the surgical theater in it, of course, is used as a convenient moment of author's fiat at the very end of the movie, when Mary crawls over to her studio and attempts to stitch shut her fatal stab wounds and ends up bleeding to death.
I had thought that the whole body modification thing would've been what really left a bad taste in my mouth after watching this movie, but it turns out that the ending was far worse that what Ruby Realgirl had done to her body on screen.
"American Mary" is a movie that started out with a good premise and ran with it for awhile at full steam, before it formed a debilitating cramp in its side and the plot suddenly, and rather abruptly, fell apart at the seams as it stopped to catch its breath.
For all of the recognition "American Mary", and the Soska Sisters, received for being an important entry in modern horror, to me the movie just didn't earn its praise. This is mainly because it turned out to be just another slasher film with a lot of revenge porn in it, and that was very disappointing, because for all of it's potential, this two woman-helmed slasher film really didn't live up to it's hype in the slightest.