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Xavierpop Does @TADFilmFest – Louis Takes In The Twisted Glory Of The @twisted_twins ‘American Mary’

American Mary is the latest film by twin writer and directors, Jen and Sylvia Soska. A twisted tale of the descension of one seemingly normal college student into the strange, extreme, highly stylized world of body modification.  A place where a wannabe surgeon finds not only her calling, but her ever growing skill brings her closer to a darkness she didn’t know existed.  Dark and harsh, it never flinches away from the graphic nature of its subject, or its perpetrator, Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle, Ginger Snaps).

Mary Mason is a talented, but struggling medical student who wants to be a surgeon. Practicing her skills on turkeys, she is well on her way to fulfilling her dream. When debt threatens her education, she seeks out a job at a strip club. Instead of becoming a dancer, she performs an emergency surgery for the club owner Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo). Disturbed and upset by the events, she tries to put the incident out of her mind, but Beatress (Tristan Risk) finds her through Billy and invades both her apartment and her life at which point she introduces Mary to the world of body modification. After an unexpected turn of events finds Mary out of medical school, she quickly becomes immersed in Beatress world.

Turning convention and expectation on its ear, American Mary is the Soska twins take on the modern view of beauty and what it means to be beautiful. Mary finding this world through a strip club, only to be asked to operate on someone who wants to be as a doll, ‘beautiful, but not a sex object’, underlies the subtly and irony of this film. As Mary descends further into this world, we see her psychological state begin to turn in on itself. Her first meeting with Beatress, who has her body modified to resemble a living Betty Boop, we see a person so disfigured as to wonder of the mental state of who is underneath this mask of surgery. As the people within this world, (including the Soska twins themselves in a wonderful but small role), and Mary interact, one begins to understand the restrained and subtle messages of the film. While there is gore, it is not without cause. Thankfully never letting events unfold into gore-porn, the overt violence, sex, nudity and gore have meaning. Little in this film comes without a cause or meaning attached to it.

Beautifully shot in a straightforward manner, the camera gives the subject, and the actors, room to move and breathe. And in this character study, it’s Mary who is quite compelling and fascinating. As she ventures deeper into this world, she is still quite beautiful, but her compassion, kindness and honesty start to give way under what she has done, has been done to her and is becoming. Nearly everyone in the film is afraid of her, of what she can do. Despite this, club owner Billy Barker still finds himself attracted to her. In a very complex series of relationships throughout the film, the one that stands out as most interesting is that between Billy and Mary. Both are in the business of flesh, he’s selling desire, and she’s selling a false perfection.

Ultimately, though, it’s Isabelle’s performance that makes not only the character, but the movie work. As Mary falls deeper, the subtly and power of the performance only deepens, conveying quite convincingly the rich and complex emotions Mary is experiencing. Given the tone and subject matter of the film, this role only could have been done with the experience and the talent of this very talented actress. Tristan Risk as Beatress is quite amazing as she is fearless in this role. Although she is under heavy makeup and effectively masks her voice to match Betty’s, she comes across as both funny, sad and quite strange. One can only guess at the psychological descension and self loathing that created this creature.

In a genre long dominated by men writers and directors, the Soska twins are a welcome and vibrant addition to the horror world. They have told a tale about women, from a woman’s perspective filtered through the world of horror. This bodes well as to the work they will produce in the future.

Highly recommended.