AICN HORROR chats with Jen & Sylvia Soska, the writers/directors of AMERICAN MARY!
Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time around I had a fantastic time interviewing Jen and Sylvia Soska, twin writer/directors of DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK (which I haven’t seen yet). Their latest film is AMERICAN MARY, a film which was the altered apple in the eye of quite a few critics who saw the film in festivals over the last year. AMERICAN MARY is finally available for the masses, having a limited theatrical release this weekend and available now on Video On Demand. Here’s what Jen and Sylvia had to say when I talked with them not long ago…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): I am here with Jen and Sylvia Soska, who are writers, directors, actresses, and…what else do you two do? You do stunt work as well, or you used to. Do you still do that?
SYLVIA SOSKA (SS): We do still do a little bit of it, but we are not allowed to anymore, because all of that crazy stuff with directing, writing, and producing, Jennifer has been trying to get us to do a full body, which is kind of like a big dick contest. Now everybody thinks, “We can’t set you guys on fire anymore, what about the next film? What if you actually get burned?” I should have gotten all of my stupid shit done before I had a lawyer that said “I have to object to you ladies about setting yourselves on fire.”
BUG: So do you ever get that urge to sneak in a stunt every now and then? Or are you guys playing it safe these days?
SS: December 11th is our company’s anniversary and this is year five, so I think five is good for fire. I think we are going to do a live video recording of a full body burn, because we have a few fire gel burners from here in Vancouver and it would be nice to represent how talented those guys are by not setting us on fire, while setting us on fire.
BUG: Very cool.
JEN SOSKA (JS): Syl and I are both a little crazy. I think that you have to be a little crazy to do that. You don’t wake up one morning and think “Hey, it would be cool to jump out of a plane.” It’s just a chemical imbalance that we were born with. I blame the X-Men and Marvel comics, because my first dream is I wanted to be in X-Men and my superhuman powers never really came into play, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a super hero still.
BUG: Well, I guess you don’t have to have powers to be a superhero. I was reading up on you and just doing that is really fascinating. I did see that…Jen, you collect weapons?
JS: I collect weapons and Sylvia actually collects tarantulas.
SS: I wanted to be an arachnologist, and then after talking with an arachnologist, he said you really have to have two jobs to survive.
BUG: (Laughs) So have you guys ever thought about doing a movie about spiders?
SS: I would absolutely love to, maybe to dispel some of the myths about them, because they really are very boring animals, but everybody is so terrified of them for some reason.
JS: I want to do the complete opposite. I want to do another ARACHNOPHOBIA, because being lovers of tarantulas and other arachnids, there are so many preconceived notions of what these creatures are capable of doing that they are not capable of doing at all. Like in ARACHNOPHOBIA when one’s set on fire and it’s leaping through the air and shrilling… (laughs) I’m amazed that there are people who think they are actually capable of doing that. Being the people that don’t have any phobias, when somebody has an irrational fear like that, I immediately want to fuck with them.
SS: I do have one phobia--I’m afraid of commitment. That’s why I’m un-dateable.
BUG: I actually had a tarantula as a kid, and so I totally understand where you’re coming from. It was a really cool animal to have, but it definitely wasn’t the most exciting pet. It was very cool that it used to throw little hairs at you if you got too close to it. It would pick off the hairs on its back and throw it at you, which was kind of weird.
SS: Yeah, and I have some of the giant spiders that do that and it’s horrible, because often it’s way worse than them biting. You’ll get all these red marks and people are like “What happened to you?” I’ll be like, I put my hand in my tarantula’s tank and they threw their hairs at me. Nobody understands and I seem a lot weirder and they think I’m constantly bitten and scratched by them, but the tarantulas have never bit or hurt us.
BUG: That’s funny. Well, let’s talk about the movie, AMERICAN MARY. This is the one that put you guys on the map. I know you had done one movie before this, but what’s it like just to come from making a really indie film and then all of a sudden playing these big festivals and getting all of this praise?
SS: It was one of the strangest experiences of our lives, especially because with DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK we were just running around with our friends and cameras and just hoping to god that it would work out and on this one we had a full crew and a cast of some really amazing people. It was still really ambitious, though we did have a modest budget. We did have fifteen days to shoot it, but we had such a cool team and everybody wanted this story to get told and they sacrificed so much and put so much of themselves into it that I think that’s a lot of the reason why this film is being received the way it is--because when you watch it you can see that in every frame.
JS: The content of the film was really a hard sell when we were trying to make it, and to go from an independent film that cost $2,500 called DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK to this really, really ambitious project, it was a very hard sell, but I always felt that since we are horror fans ourselves we are making a film that other horror fans want to see and I knew all along that the fans would hopefully like it, but the response that we’ve gotten has absolutely blown us away. I mean, we’re fangirls; to be able to play somewhere like Fantastic Fest that we always dreamed of going to or getting to go to Comic Con and be special guests is like a fangirl’s dream come true. I would have gone to any of those events as a fan, but to be there as a guest? That just blows us away. I think of the amazing opportunities that we’ve had and it just floors us.
BUG: Very cool. Well, the movie itself involves extreme and sometimes unnecessary plastic surgery and body modification. Is that an interest for you? What really brought that up for you guys to come up with this story?
SS: I’ve found an April Fools prank online that featured two identical twin brothers that have extreme body modifications. One ended up with three limbs and one ended up with an elongated finger and because they are genetically identical, their bodies wouldn’t reject and there’s a love letter associated with it that said that “you had to be a twin to be able to understand why we would do this” and it scared the shit out of me and my mom always taught me that “if something scares you, it’s because you don’t really know enough about it, so educate yourself and you wont be scared anymore.” So I became obsessed with body modification. Jen and I would go online and would pretend to be in the culture. We would pretend we got a procedure done and then something would be wrong with it and we would just keep talking to people about it and it started as a fascination and it turned into admiration. They were a group of people who were very self aware, very in touch with themselves, and very brave to do these choices aesthetically with themselves without really being supported, and because of that experience I had from not understanding them to really loving what they do, I wanted to share that experience with other people. I thought that would be an interesting world to delve into, especially because you don’t see body modification represented in film too often and then when you do see it in the media, it seems to be a modern day witch hunt.
JS: I find that body modification is a lot like arachnophobia in the way that there is this connotation and expectation of the people in the community, but when we educated ourselves more and more, we realized how wrong our knee jerk reaction is. I mean these people are so sweet, so down to earth, so welcoming, and it’s difficult for us to see the difference in cosmetic surgery and body modification. One is completely accepted, with the tiny waists, plastic faces, and that fits in the ideal of what is an expected form of beauty or largely North American ideal of what is beautiful, whereas with the body mod community they are really doing these procedures for themselves and to expand their feelings of their connections with themselves or their own idea of what is beautiful.
BUG: What was the most disturbing body mod you saw in doing research for the film?
SS: I think it would have to have been the identical twin brothers that swapped limbs and digits, leaving one brother with three arms minus one ring finger and the other with one arm and an elongated ring finger. It was an April Fool's prank and total bullshit, but it really creeped me out even though it's what got me hooked in the first place. I saw a video on YouTube called the Body Modification Extreme Olympics that was all this chopping and cutting, but the most disturbing part was wasps kept landing on the people's parts that were doing this and I was like, how the fuck is there a wasp nest there too?
JS: It used to be penile sub-incisions. However, I've talked so much about sub-incised penises and drawn so many and mimed out the process to create them, that they're just normal to me now. I didn't understand the why when I first came across them, but I've really educated myself about them. My favorite sub-incised penis moment was when I went into MastersFX and they had all these printed out versions of them. To show something new to the guys who have seen and created everything was a proud moment. Unfortunately, we had to lose ours in the film. I wanted a genuine member of the mod community to show off his, but they were surprisingly shy.
BUG: I really like the character you had who made herself look like Betty Boop. Where did the inspiration for that one come from? Was that something that you pulled from your research as well?
SS: We were thinking about different ideals in western culture of beauty and of course we had a Barbie doll mod and I was thinking “What else is there?” There’re not too many girls out there that have a very unique look, but also have confidence in their sexuality and who they are. Betty Boop just popped into my mind. I thought wouldn’t’ that be interesting, because the aesthetic of her would be very fascinating and at the same time it would be in the body mod culture, but it would be a different example that you don’t really see. We got Tristan Risk to come on to play her and she has a bit of body modification. She has the smallest waist in the world, which I thought was amazing, and she could really bring real life experiences to the character, and one of the hardest things to do when we were casting was find somebody who wouldn’t just make a cartoon character of it, that would make a real person that has this cartoon character as her spirit animal that she could draw strength from and she could emulate while still being a human being.
JS: Also for the aesthetic of Ruby Realgirl, played by Paula Lindberg, it is so common to see a woman that is representative of a Barbie doll, a blonde with very exact features, to the point where nobody even bats an eye to see somebody that looks like that. We wanted to make a very literal translation of what Betty Boop looked liked, because that still would be a little bit jarring for people to see in reality and it’s also kind of strange to think how far we’ve come with what’s the accepted form of beauty and what isn’t an accepted form. You look at Ruby Realgirl and a lot of people would think “That’s just a regular girl,” but you look at Betty Boop and they think there’s something a little bit strange about her.
BUG: Is AMERICAN MARY a film you might want to revisit in a sequel since the original was such a critical success?
SS: You know, Jen and I wanted to make a trilogy of the film, but not in the conventional way. In AMERICAN MARY, you follow Mary's life, you see the world through her eyes, but there are more stories interlinking there that we would like to explore. The sequel would be called AMERICAN BLACK and would follow Dr. Black's story during the same time line, so you learn more about the doctors and the club. The third one would follow Ruby and Beatress's stories and focus on the mods and their lives and operations that get them to that point and, since it would be the end of the trilogy, move a little past the ends of the previous two films to see the impact those events have made. We have been pretty obsessed with this story and characters; there're a lot of stories that we planned out when we created this universe.
JS: We're obsessive storytellers. Behind the scenes of every character, we had stories in place. Because you follow Mary through this world in this film, you're limited to seeing what she sees. There are hints to more all over. The mention of Doctor Black in the beginning and him making an appearance at the party is probably one of the most obvious moments. There's a lot going on between Ruby and Beatrice, too, that you don't really get to see as both are very guarded and only show you what they want you to see about them. I love our characters. There are even ones that had to be cut out for time and budget. Every script changes multiple times as you take it to camera. We didn't lose any of the heart, but there were some moments that I do miss. If we had the chance to do a couple sequels or even a television series, you'd really see this world open up. And you'd also see just how far down the rabbit hole Mary could go.
BUG: Recently there's been a ton of great "body horror" films. There is yours, Brandon Cronenberg's ANTIVIRAL, ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY, and probably some others I can't think of right now. What do you think is the reason there have been so many new Cronenbergian "body horror" films lately, and do you think AMERICAN MARY fits into that subgenre?
SS: I think body horror is one of the truest forms of horror because we all experience it to a certain degree. When we grow, our bodies change in unpredictable ways, at least to us at that time. Then, we age; we do things that put us in hospitals where we are helpless in fixing ourselves. When we grow older, our bodies betray us from memory loss to bodily function loss. We see amputations and body damage that makes us fear the loss of our flesh. We already have that flesh fear in us that, if you explore it in genre filmmaking, you can really get under the audiences' skin--pun intended.
JS: It's something we can all relate to and a concept that makes us all fear for our own mortality. We're all made up of flesh and blood. To have that on the screen and to see it devastated and manipulated is horrifying. You can just imagine what it would feel like; it makes your flesh crawl. It scares us to our core because at some point in our lives we have to face our own mortality and the eventuality of our death. Flesh is also so delicate, so easy to injure and tear and scar and cut through. We go through our lives sometimes thinking we're unbreakable until we're reminded of how quickly and irreversibly our lives can change from any random sickness or disease or injury.
BUG: Do you feel, being female writers and female directors in horror, do you think that that’s difficult? Easier? What do you find to be the most challenging aspect in this profession?
SS: It’s a plus and a negative at the same time. There are so many different artists out there that are so talented and it’s very difficult to get your foot in the door with them for people to take notice, and identical twin sisters that write and direct horror movies, that’s gotten us into a lot of meetings and had a lot of people want to see us and give us the opportunity to hear what we are trying to make. At the same time, I’ve been in meetings where it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, my age and gender come into question immediately and because of such, it’s thought what I do is considered less than my male counterparts, which I find incredibly offensive. But we live in a culture where that’s almost accepted. Just the other day at the Cannes Film Festival, Jerry Lewis was saying he doesn’t find women funny and that’s acceptable. People will say “Women can’t direct films”, but if you replace the word “women” with any other kind of minority or any other kind of group, that wouldn’t be acceptable to say, but somehow that’s still accepted.
JS: It is absolutely a double-edged sword. Just as many people as want to see us, an equal amount don’t want to see us because we are women. I’ve had people that don’t want to work with us based on our gender or think that us being identical twins is a shtick. I can’t help that I was born with an identical twin sister that I work with any more than Joel and Ethan Coen can help that they are brothers.
SS: And one cool thing is, even though there has been a bit of a struggle, we’ve gotten so much support from people we really admire in the horror industry. Clive Barker, James Wan, Eli Roth, and a lot of these guys in the so called “Boys Horror Club.” They are more than happy to see women artists telling stories from their perspective. It’s not really an issue with gender with the great majority of people; it’s whether you’re telling an interesting story and how you are telling it.
BUG: Were there any specific horror films you would say influenced you in the way you make your films?
SS: Robert Rodriguez, his films, 'Rebel Without A Crew', and his Ten Minute Film Schools are what got us into filmmaking in the first place. We grew up loving that stuff and still love it today. Jason Eisener's HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN was a huge inspiration to our first film - DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK - as was FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL KILL! For AMERICAN MARY, we wanted to focus on a different visual and storytelling in horror, so we were very influenced by Asian and European cinema. Takeshi Miike's AUDITION was a huge influence. Loved Dario Argento's use of lighting, especially in SUSPIRIA. I loved the camera work and beauty in films like I SAW THE DEVIL and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.
JS: We joke that DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK was our Rodriguez version of WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S.
BUG: So being twins and collaborating like this, is there one of you guys that does more or less of the writing and the other one is focusing mainly on directing? How do you two sort out who does what?
JS: It’s almost like we’re one person in two bodies and two minds. We divide and conquer. All of our responsibilities are interchangeable and we write 100% back and forth. We do tag team writing where one of us will write and then tag the other one in and the other one is off playing video games. We were very lucky to be born with a collaborator and a business partner and a friend. I feel bad for so many other writers out there, because they are constantly searching for somebody that can compliment their writing style and I’m very much aware that I have somebody that always writes with me. Even if she doesn’t like my idea initially, she’ll say “No, well I’ll still work on it.”
SS: I think one of the best things is even though we are identical twins who look the same and we have similar interests, we get to the same place in a different way. Jen and I joke that she’s the Joss Whedon and I’m the Lars Von Trier. She likes to put the jokes in. She puts the heart in and I tear it out. If it wasn’t for Jen, I don’t think anybody would be able to stand the films that I want to make. I think we compliment each other. We also challenge each other to be better, because we are sisters and we don’t take each other’s feelings into account. It’s like “here’s what needs to be done” and that’s how we work.
BUG: Yeah, well I know you guys started a company together, Twisted Twins?
JS: That is correct.
BUG: Will there ever be a time where you guys would want to break off and do a solo film, or are you guys always going to be collaborators?
JS: The only way we’d split up would be if we wanted to do two films at the same time, and then we’d probably jump between both sets. I don’t know what it’s like to work solo. It’s so much easier to have a business partner that you could absolutely count on in every respect that is working towards the same goal and has the exact same vision. I’m sure that Syl and I could work separately; I just don’t see why we would ever want to.
BUG: I know that AMERICAN MARY is just coming out, but I know it’s been finished for a little while. What are you guys working on next?
SS: It was just announced at the Cannes Film Festival that Jen and I have been selected to be part of the multi-collaborative ABC’S OF DEATH 2, which we are so excited about, because I really loved the first one. I wanted to do the letter “T” and with the first it was for “Toilet,” so there’s no way I could actually beat that, so to actually be in the selection now and before AMERICAN MARY there was a film that we were going to do, because MARY was such a tough sell, we thought of something that would have a broader audience and really interesting, really gory, really original monster movie called BOB. The tagline is “There’s a monster inside all of us. Sometimes it gets out.”
BUG: Cool. Well I know you guys are fans of comics. Do you have any comics that influenced you from a writing/storytelling aspect?
SS: You have a job I would love, working at AICN COMICS. I really want to get a part time job at a comic book store just so I can geek out with all the comics as they come in, but you probably have to help customers instead of just reading everything. I grew up on classic X-MEN. I liked how they told stories. How it was about mutants and whatnot, but there were also really strong messages about self and complex adult relationships. My favorite was when Forge's invention accidentally hit Storm and caused her to lose her powers and so he tries to take care of her afterwards. They like each other, but don't know how to express it, so you read their internal dialogue about wanting the other to like them. Storm puts on a dress to impress him, and then scolds herself for changing her appearance for approval. I read that when I was ten and those characters were such role models to me. I read a lot of comics now. One of my favorite storytellers has to be Garth Ennis because he's just got this way of showing the world in a macabre and hilarious way - I re-read his stuff all the time because it never gets old; it can always shock me and put a smile on my face.
JS: I've totally turned into that guy. The "comics were written so much better when I was young" guy. There are some phenomenal writers nowadays, but I just look at the maturity of the classic UNCANNY X-MEN. I was a kid reading them and the stories weren't rated G or even PG. They dealt with mature issues and complex interpersonal relationships. I remember when Kitty Pryde was going to marry Caliban of the Morlocks so that they'd send their healer to save Colossus' life. They had this bizarre love affair. He was so much older than her and he didn't reciprocate her feelings the same way, but she was willing to do anything for him. And Storm was so maternal over her, their relationship was so beautiful and heartfelt and real. You think of a team like the X-Men and realistically you have these teenagers with superpowers that are away from their families and facing growing up and these other massive changes in their lives; it only makes sense that they'd be like family or date or just hate each other. I love the relationships between characters and how they all had their own very specific moral codes.
DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN was a big standout story arc for me. Karen Page had such a hard downfall. She essentially sold out Matt for drugs and was a junkie. She had such a fall from grace. The shit Matt goes through in that and how he forgives her and rises up when he literally has everything he has stripped away from him. Just, wow. Ha ha, oh, I'd better stop. This could get out of hand...
BUG: You’re speaking my language. I loved those stories. Do you guys still read comics?
SS: Totally. I've just got into Ennis' THE BOYS, which I love. I love the new Marvel Max stuff, a lot of Punisher and Deadpool. What Posehn, Duggan, and Moore have been doing with the new DEADPOOL stuff is sensational. Although, I love Daniel Way's take on Poodle too. Deadpool is my favorite. He's the personification of the internet in so many ways and he's Canadian, so it's cool to have him and Wolverine. Dan Schaffer's stuff is just brilliant. I'm utterly in love with DOGWITCH, if you haven't gotten a chance to read it, I can't recommend it highly enough. I recently read THE PRO, which is heartwarming and vulgar at the same time. I've been a Spidey fan for years, although I truly hate what they've been doing with the character - I miss the TANGLED WEB and PETER PARKER SPIDER-MAN kind of stuff. I mean, he's an everyman who never wins--shouldn't that be a character that can cater to the struggles we're all feeling in the world right now? Oh, and THUNDERBOLTS. Red Hulk pisses me off, such a bully, and it sucks that Deadpool can't score with Elektra, but it's a fun read.
JS: I didn't think I could love a character like the classic ones I grew up reading. And then Daniel Way created Daken. At first I was all like, "uh huh, yeah, so Wolverine has an edgy, badass son? WHATever". Then I read him. What a wonderful bastard. He's such a complex and fascinating character. He's so awful, but you just fall in love with him. He's also pansexual and breaks every stereotype you'd associate with a gay character. He's just so fun. I love when Marjorie Liu and Daniel Way write him. His most recent arc pissed me off because he in no way acted like the character I had fallen in love with, but I hope that'll change. I read ANYTHING with him in it. Even online fanfic. DEADPOOL is our homey. We LOVE what Brian Posehn is doing with him. I'm digging YOUNG AVENGERS. We're huge advocates of LGBT equal rights and they've done something great with their openly gay couple, Hulkling and Wiccan. They even print letters of readers who are in support of it and those who are totally not. It's interesting that they've really opened a dialogue about those issues. I LOVED DARK AVENGERS while it was going on. SO good. If anyone missed it, read it and thank me later. The Fillbach Brothers are amazing. I read their re-release of CAPTAIN FREEBIRD; it's phenomenal. They write and draw and it's so cinematic. I've read a couple of their books that haven't been released yet and they are just going to blow people away when they are.
BUG: I know you've been talking with Ken Levin from First Comics about doing some comic book work. How did this collaboration come about?
SS: We have been talking to Ken. Right now, we're focusing on the graphic novel adaptation of DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. There's a lot of insanity we wanted to get in there that we couldn't for various reasons, like if we punched a real bear in the face, we would have risked getting our actress mauled. But in graphic novel form, that's much safer to do. I don't know about an AMERICAN MARY one, but I would love to do one if we could.
JS: Ken is awesome. We'd love to release every one of our films, but the fully uncut versions. We also have a TV series that we'd love to also release as a comic book series, but it's like Zoolander's "Magnum". I shouldn't even be talking about it yet, ha ha!
BUG: Sounds very cool. Can’t wait to see what you guys have coming up next! Are you guys going to be at San Diego this year?
JS: Absolutely. It’s like heaven on earth. You have to be a nerd to understand. Our first year was last year and being able to watch Tony Stark in his full Iron Man costume hit on one girl and get turned down after another, it’s just all I’ve ever wanted in life. I love just being surrounded by my people. If I could go to San Diego and it was Comic Con all year around, I’d probably never give up going.
BUG: Well I will be there as well, so maybe I will see you two there. Thank you so much for talking with me today. Have a great day..
SS: It was such a pleasure, Mark. Bye!
JS: Thank you! Bye!
BUG: AMERICAN MARY premieres in LA, NY, Chicago, & San Diego tomorrow and is available now on Video on Demand! Check out my review of the film below the trailer.
Advance Review: Opening in limited theaters in Los Angeles, New York, Austin, Chicago & San Diego on May 31st (Available now on Video on Demand)!
AMERICAN MARY (2012)Directed by Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska
Written by Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska
Starring Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, David Lovgren, Paula Lindberg, Clay St. Thomas, John Emmet Tracy, Twan Holliday, Nelson Wong, Sylvia Soska, Jen Soska, Paul Anthony, Travis Watters, Marius Soska
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
If one has never seen recreational body modification in its various forms, I can understand why some folks would be seriously ooked out by AMERICAN MARY, the latest in what seems to be a new wave of body horror films which may have been restarted with HUMAN CENTIPEDE, but has really taken shape with this past year’s VICTIM (reviewed here), THE SKIN I LIVE IN (reviewed here), EXCISION (reviewed here), ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY (reviewed here) and ANTIVIRAL (reviewed here), to name a few. I don’t mean to be jaded, but while I don’t have any body mods myself (besides tattoos), I have seen my fair share in my time. So on that initial shock level, I wasn’t taken aback as much as I imagine one unfamiliar with the subculture would be.
That said, AMERICAN MARY is one hell of a movie. It’s well acted by GINGER SNAPS’ Katharine Isabelle and newcomer Antonio Cupo. Both actors do well with their characters, exhibiting an attraction, yet an inability to show that toward one another because of the situation they have found themselves in. The story follows Mary (Isabelle), a down and out med student in need of a quick buck answering an ad as a stripper in a gentleman’s club. While there, Mary’s skills as a future surgeon are called upon when she is offered $5,000.00 to illegally operate on an associate of the bar with his eye gouged out. Mary takes the offer and finds herself spiraling down the rabbit hole into dark subcultures and deviant body modification for an immense amount of profit which would shut those student loan callers the hell up.
The way this film is put together is eloquent and delicate, yet occasionally stone cold. Even the opening scene, as Mary practices her operating skills on a dead plucked turkey, the camera zooms in to show this delicate operation with thin instruments making precise cuts. That’s how this film is throughout. AMERICAN MARY is slow to develop and shows a patient hand storytelling-wise, but I wasn’t bored a tick as we see Mary get further and further entrenched in this shadowy world. The directors, Sylvia & Jen Soska, are twins who also appear in the film as…what else…twisted twins with a unique request for Mary’s operating skills. The story keeps things pretty distant, though, only showing us slight peeks as to what’s going on inside Mary’s brainpan with only a few scenes of her reacting to these intense situations like vomiting and taking a shower in her clothes, both clichés but appropriate given the extreme circumstanes.
The music is amazing, mostly consisting of Rod Stewart songs, and prove to be amazing juxtapositions accompanying scenes of medical nightmare operations. And the gore is pretty intense with quite a few brutal kills, scenes of torture and more than enough scenes of medical procedures gone pretzaline. This film is definitely something I can see gore hounds delighting in.
While showing these procedures is enough to gross out some, I found myself wanting to see a bit more of Mary’s struggle with tossing her dreams of taking the Hippocratic Oath out the window for profit, and once tossed, seeing her struggle with the increasingly bad decisions she makes as the story goes on. There’s a lot of attention paid to the body mod, which is indeed a fascinating subject. And while Katherine Isabelle gives us a slight glimpse of what it would be like trying to get a grasp on how a doctor might deal with the inner conflict modifying a body unnecessarily would create, especially one as unfamiliar with the culture as Mary is at the beginning, I found myself wanting to know more about her inner tickings. I guess, that’s the sign of a good character—the fact that I wanted to know more about her and keep the movie going and delving into how this fringe culture affects the uninitiated.
Aside from that, I really liked the film. Sure, the ending felt a bit rushed, but that goes back to me wanting to see more of the character of Mary rather than the pacing of it all. AMERICAN MARY is definitely one of the best films I’ve seen this year in its attention to a subculture that has been relatively unexplored in horror films and some extremely effective scenes handling some extremely sensitive subject matter (rape, torture, body mod, self expression, empowerment). It’s a testament to the actors and the filmmakers that I wanted this film to keep going.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.
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