Sunday, 16 December 2012

REVIEW - American Mary ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Review by Damon Rickard
Stars Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo & Tristan Risk
Written by Sylvia Soska & Jen Soska
Certification UK 18
Opens January 11th 2012 (UK)
Runtime 103 minutes
Directed by Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska

From the creators of Dead Hooker In A Trunk, the Soska twins have brought us American Mary, their tale of desire, beauty and death all wrapped in a twisted American Dream parcel.  The movie follows the titular Mary Mason (Ginger Snap's Katharine Isabelle) on her journey to becoming a surgeon and the limits people will go to in order to fulfill their dreams and desires.

Mary is a brilliant surgical student, struggling to pay her rent, phone and any other bill that cruelly comes her way.  In order to overcome her increasingly broke situation and complete her education, she seeks out quick money solutions which leads her into an world of underground surgeries that will leave as many scars on Mary as it does on her patients. 

There is far more to this film than a simple horror film. It looks at acceptance, the world's definition of beauty and the struggle people can have to be who they want to be within a society that continually fails to allow them into its cold heart.  With an in depth look at body modification and how people wish to change themselves on the outside to fit how they feel on the inside, the Soska twins have elegantly fitted a meaningful subtext into the confines of a horror film.  A neat trick in this day and age when modern audiences can often simply clamour for as much blood and guts as they can lay their hands on.  Which in certain circumstances works (Hostel, directed by Soksa fan Eli Roth for one) but in the case of AM it could have been a distraction to the story as much as it could have been an easy way to make the often wonderful cheap thrills. 

Don't get me wrong, there is plenty in here to delight horror fans and the 18 certificate is well deserved but here it serves the plot of the film rather than just being gore for gore's sake.  With an immense central performance from Isabelle she has you unable to take your eyes off the screen.  It's just such a shame that her performance will fail to get the recognition it deserves from the commercial side of the industry, simply due to the genre it falls in.  Rarely does a horror performance get noticed as a skilled piece of acting (Anthony Hopkins being a rare exception). 

As Mary, Isabelle holds the film with her restrained delivery (it is credit to her and the Soska twins as they could have made it a much showier and more generic role) and she is as beautiful as she is brilliant. Without both of these you may not have been able to fully buy into her journey. There is also the added factor that she could easily have come off as selfish and unlikeable (it would have been an easy misstep in the characterisation and have her come off as just about the money), meaning you wouldn't have rooted for her in the same way.  But with her intense likeability and the deft touch of the writing and direction from the Soska's, Mary comes off as entirely sympathetic. 

We move with Mary as she slowly moves from a complete outsider to a champion of the real outsiders, overcoming her prejudices and own moral compass to understand that people are free to make their own choices to be what they want to be. She can help them achieve this where previously they have been failed by less open people. 

There is so much more than meets the eye with AM.  We are shown the difficulty that lies in some people in building trust and the fragility of it meaning it can be broken in a second with a single action and how much damage this can do to a person.  It also looks at misguided idolisation in that is it all about looks and charm or is it about what the person stands for?  How easily we are swayed by outward beauty but continually miss what is inside and that sometimes within the most stunning exterior lies an ugly darkness. 

However, ultimately we have a depiction of a modern American Dream.  The whole concept of the dream came about from the land grabs, the panning for gold, oil discoveries and the ability to go from nothing to having everything.  But this was all material.  Is the modern version to be able to have everything that your heart desires and that money can buy or is it to be able to be free to be who you want to be?  There are no answers given here, this is not a spoon feeding exercise and the film is all the better for it.

This is a dark, sumptuous and clever movie that delivers in many ways.  It's sexy, dirty, bloody and above all, it's fun.  Does it have flaws?  Yes - find me a movie that doesn't have a single one - but do they matter? No.  You can overlook any small misgivings as the overall package provides you with something that will stay with you after the credits have rolled and it's not often films manage to do that these days and we should celebrate those that do.

There's also the added bonus that its directors are freakin hot too!!