Chop me up – American Mary review

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By Richard Haridy
February 19, 2013

A disturbing horror flick set in the seedy underground world of body modification is a great premise. For at least two-thirds of American Mary, writer-director team Jen and Sylvia Soska set up what looks to be a cult classic. This sensational opening makes the disappointing final act hurt all the more as American Mary falls in a heap in its closing movements. Mary Mason (a chilly Katharine Isabelle) is a young surgical student struggling to pay her bills. After applying to a strip club, she meets a dancer (Tristan Risk) who has altered herself to look like Betty Boop, and discovers a world where people pay high prices for surgical procedures that no credible surgeon would ever attempt.

Mary’s descent into amorality as she takes on stranger and stranger procedures is never clearly motivated. Isabelle frequently portrays her as a femme fatale; however, in reality the character is more a sociopathic maniac. Mary is icily distant and inscrutable in a way that’s problematic considering she’s our protagonist. When the most empathetic character is a violent, misogynistic club owner, you know you have a problem.

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All of this would be forgiven if the film didn’t collapse at the end. For the first hour, American Mary has remarkable restraint and direction, but the last thirty minutes fragment the narrative into several tangential sub-plots that never coalesce. Story threads that barely registered suddenly become significant, whilst others that seemed important are thrown by the wayside. It’s a frustrating experience that gives the impression the Soska sisters either didn’t know where to take their story or just lost control of their vision.

American Mary has plenty of genre pleasures going for it, including a hilariously bizarre cameo by the directors as lesbian German siblings. Despite their ultimately underwhelming conclusion, the Soskas are indeed filmmakers to watch. If they continue to grow and improve between this movie and the next – as much as they have between their debut (Dead Hooker In A Trunk) and this – then they’re not far away from making a real cult classic.

2.5/5

American Mary is available on DVD and Blu-ray from February 21, 2013.

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