Why American Mary remains one of the essential films of the 2000s Ian White July 14, 2021 Editor's Choice, Features, Opinion 18459 With the Soskas now household names in the genre community, and the film in question readily available, I wanted to remind everyone about my favourite film of recent years without question and, I firmly predict, a film that will never leave my ‘Top Five Films of All Time’… period. Jen and Sylvia Soska’s stunningly beautiful, awesomely genius and spectacularly genre-redefining… ‘AMERICAN MARY’. I know, that’s a massive statement punctuated by a barrage of enormous neon-lit superlatives but that’s how sincerely I feel about this film, and how badly I want to encourage you to go see it. And, for anyone who missed my original review way back at Frightfest 2012, here’s what ‘American Mary’ is all about: Mary Mason (a brilliantly engaging performance by Katharine Isabelle) is a gifted medical student who needs to find a quick-fix way out of her money troubles. But she’s an independent woman with a sense of pride, and a certain iciness when we first meet her, so she’s not about to accept her Nana’s offer of help. Instead, she applies for a job at the local strip joint where an uncomfortable interview with club owner Billy (Antonio Cupo) is cut short by the news that one of Billy’s henchmen needs some urgent medical attention in the back room. Billy, who’s already taken a good look at Mary’s CV, enlists her medical expertise and offers her $5000 to get the job done with no questions asked. Reluctantly, Mary goes to work and begins patching up the horribly injured thug. No sooner has Mary returned home, and barely has time to throw up, than she receives a visit from Beatress (Tristan Risk), a dancer at Billy’s club who has been surgically altered to look like a strangely lopsided version of 1930’s cartoon heroine Betty Boop. In fact, Beatress channels Boop right down to her sing-song voice and sashaying stride. Beatress knows all about Mary’s handiwork earlier that night and she’s willing to pay Mary a lot of money to perform some extreme nipping and tucking on her friend Ruby RealGirl (Paula Lindberg), an underground fashion designer whose ambition is to become a human doll. At first Mary balks, but Beatress is persistent. She’s even arranged after hours access to the operating theatre in the local veterinary clinic, so Mary will have a place to work. Reluctantly, Mary agrees to at least meet with Ruby to discuss her requirements. When her work on Ruby RealGirl proves a success, Mary quickly becomes the go-to surgeon in the lucrative and illegal underground of extreme body modification. To begin with, Mary isn’t overly comfortable with what she’s doing but it more than pays the bills. But then, when her med school teacher invites Mary to a private party and something despicably ugly happens that forces Mary to quit her studies, she quickly changes perspective and launches herself full-tilt into the body modification universe. But it’s not the vanilla world of tribal scarring and nipple piercing we’re talking about here, Mary’s portfolio begins with tongue dividing and climbs all the way up to voluntary amputation. Of course, she needs a little practice – just so she’s got some photos for her brochure – and, let’s just say, the scuzz who ruined Mary’s party gets to regret it in a very painful, permanent and long-term fashion. And even then, Mary leaves him hanging. ‘Bloody’ Mary , as she’s known on the circuit, is suddenly queen of the body-mod scene but success doesn’t bring happiness and Mary is rapidly becoming more and more isolated from herself. Billy, Beatress and ‘minder’ Lance Delgreggo (Twan Hollliday) are the only people she can really confide in and even small-time hood Billy, for whom Mary has become something of an unattainable wet-dream, is a little bit afraid of her. And then, during a vicious twist I didn’t see coming, Mary’s world is torn apart as suddenly and precisely as a scalpel slices flesh and Mary might just discover that she carries deeper scars than any of her ‘patients’ and the one person she can’t suture back together may very well be herself. So, to sum up (and evangelise just a little bit more): American Mary’ is an instant classic that cat dances over everything we thought we knew about horror cinema. In fact, the wonderful Soska sisters have created an experience that, for me, must have been like… and I’m not kidding here… the first time an audience was allowed to see ‘The Godfather’ or ‘The Exorcist’ or ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ or ‘Star Wars’, before all the excitement got out and the rest of the world realised just how monumentally important those films and their film makers would become. ‘American Mary’ is that extraordinary. Universal Studios has been synonymous with classic horror since motion pictures began, they’ve always had the best monsters in their pantheon, and Mary Mason is undoubtedly one of their greatest, most terrifying and most sympathetic monsters ever. It’s a shame more people didn’t get the chance to meet her first on the big screen, but now there’s no excuse. As I said in my original review, ‘American Mary’ is far more than cutting edge horror, it leaves most other genre movies splayed open with their entrails hanging out. Miss it at your peril.