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September 5, 2013

American Mary

by Franz Patrick


American Mary (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Mary (Katharine Isabelle) is attending medical school with hopes of becoming a surgeon, but she is desert dry broke. Desperate for a job, she answers an online ad which leads to a job interview at a strip club. While speaking with the manager (Antonio Cupo), an incident occurs which requires a man’s face to be stitched up. Although Mary’s surgical experience is only limited to suturing turkeys, she agrees to help for $5000 in cash. Soon after a successful operation, Beatress (Tristan Risk), a stripper who has been under the knife multiple times in order to resemble Betty Boop, finds out where Mary lives and asks if she can perform an “unconventional operation.” Beatress is willing to pay handsomely.

The experience of “American Mary,” written and directed by Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska, is like being stuck in a sizable crate with nothing but a flashlight. As the picture opens, we are made aware that a lot of its content is dark and we discover mysteries using that source of light. Sometimes the flashlight reveals unpleasant things–we want to look away but we end up not doing so because we are curious as to how it will all play out. So it is most disappointing that it is unable to retain its dark aura, falling into a number of horror indie trappings as it races to the finish line.

I liked Mary as a protagonist who makes increasingly scary choices. Unlike medical students portrayed in most movies, those boring characters who “want to make a difference,” it seems like Mary wants to put in the time and effort because she is addicted to the craft. She craves the perfection required to become a great surgeon rather than fulfilling a “need to help people.” In that way, Mary is already interesting because she is specific. Couple that drive with her outer appearance–a cup of goth, a teaspoon of rock ‘n’ roll, and a pinch of dominatrix stripper–we have a character who is worthy of exploration.

A big reason why the first half works equally as a horror film and a social commentary is because it plays upon extremes with respect to a lead character we might be reluctant to root for. One of the women requests genital mutilation. Mary, as a future physician and as a woman, finds this difficult to swallow. Still, she needs the money and so she decides to go through with it.

The unrealized subplots dilute its macabre palate. Eventually, a detective (John Emmet Tracy) gets involved due to the disappearance of Mary’s instructor. They share a couple of would-be tense Q&As but the script lacks the ingenuity to pull off a convincing cat-and-mouse game. Not for a second was I convinced that Detective Dolor is smarter than Mary nor did I buy into the fact that Mary would be impractical enough to take the risks she did.

Another subplot that does not ripen is the club manager’s attraction toward Mary. We are not given a good enough reason why the relationship is worth delving into. Moreover, Isabelle and Cupo share no chemistry. These scenes are not only standard, they also derail the otherwise fluid pacing.

I enjoyed that “American Mary” offers a story somewhere among the tired distractions when it could have been just another graphic horror movie with slashing, voluminous gore, and things of that sort. Furthermore, it offers a couple of memorable characters like Beatress with her high-pitched voice that likens Megan Mullally’s on “Will & Grace” and Lance (Twan Holliday), the mostly silent tough guy who does what he is told. For these reasons, I am recommending the film–with some reservation.

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