I’ve wanted to see this movie for a few years and finally found a way to view it recently. It’s been getting some great reviews ever since its release and is kind of a big deal in horror circles. Which is great.
I’ll go into my rating and view on it nearer the end of this post, but I want to put a small disclaimer at the beginning, before I myself get started. First of all:
*This post is rife with spoilers, so tread carefully, my dears*
Secondly, I will review this is a similar format to all the other films we’ve included in Jillian & Christa’s Great Blog Collab; however, I strongly feel that this film should be enjoyed, particularly by horror fans who will adore it, so I’m not going to ruin absolutely every last piece of it with detail. Okay?
We shall begin.
American Mary (2012)
Where to Watch:
The allure of easy money sends Mary Mason, a medical student, into the world of underground surgeries which ends up leaving more marks on her than her so-called “freakish” clients. (via IMDB)
The Uncondensed Version:
We open with a close up of a scalpel gliding through flesh. The same flesh is then stitched and as the camera pans out, it become apparent that this is the flesh of a chicken (or turkey). Our heroine, Mary is obviously a dedicated student as she studies into the night, in the comfort of her very best negligee.
The next day, Mary is admonished in class when her phone goes off. Her grumpy professor is quick to pull her up in front of her peers, though she answers his smug questioning like a pro. After class she apologises and he tells her he’s had enough of twats in his classroom and that she shouldn’t fuck it up since she’s one of his most promising students.
Later on, Mary is in the car park speaking to someone on the phone (a debt collector). Grumpy professor (actual name Dr. Grant), overhears as he’s getting into his car, but drives off without comment.
Mary returns home and wouldn’t you know it? She lives alone in a wonderful Bohemian loft (on her own with a bird). There’s the source of her money issues right there, I have to say. If she downgraded to a bedsit or got roommate for a few months, I think she’d be fine.
While searching online for a way to make some cash, Mary chats to her Nana on the phone, a Hungarian lady who is concerned about young people making love all over the shop. Mary assures Nana she’s watching the wrong TV shows and stumbles across a ‘Non-sex’ job that pays cash.
Mary goes to a strip club, where she meets Poor Man’s Mark Ruffalo, Billy who is a chauvinistic strip club owner (big wow), who makes her strip to prove she isn’t fat. (I got annoyed by the fat joke here because it’s unnecessary, but does illustrate what a pig Billy is supposed to be). He then gets Mary to massage him but whilst this happens, shit kicks off.
From Mary’s resume, Billy knows that she is a medical student so he asks her to go with him. He says he’ll give her $5K (CAN) if she does what he says. She’s a little bit dubious, which annoys him, but then she agrees to do anything he asks if he gives her the cash that night (oo-er). Thankfully, it’s not a degrading sex act. Mary is required to sew up a bleeding man who seems to have lost an eye and been sliced up a bit.
Back home, Mary is sickened by what she’s done and climbs into the shower (semi) dressed. Later she falls asleep on the couch with a baseball bat.
These are the actions of a woman not entirely comfortable with her actions the previous night. She sleeps, just about, but then her phone starts to ring.
Mary answers and is shocked when the caller asks for Doctor Mason. She hangs up. The caller rings again. They chat a little more, with the caller revealing her name but Mary hangs up again, assuring Beatrice that she has the wrong number and the wrong idea.
Mary is back in the kitchen suturing turkeys and gulping down wine when the doorbell goes. The disembodied voice on the intercom announces that it has a package for Mary and Mary lets this person up, which let’s face it is sloppy work.
Since the voice is identical to Beatrice’s from earlier on, it’s no surprise when she appears inside Mary’s airy loft (not a euphemism). The surprise, instead, is that Beatrice has a distinctive look and is seeking unorthodox assistance from Mary, for a friend (it’s always a friend). Mary is unconvinced until they talk figures and is persuaded to at least show up by the promise of $2K (CAN).
Mary arrives at Beatrice’s niece’s place of work, a veterinarian’s surgery (convenient) and still isn’t sure what she’s let herself in for. Bea (who is my favourite character and hands down the most adorable creature I’ve ever seen), suggests that Mary speak to her friend, Ruby to find out what she wants herself.
Mary meets Ruby, a real-life Barbie doll fashion designer who gives Mary a speech about dolls and the non-sexualisation of said dolls. It becomes apparent that Ruby would like her nips removed, please and her va-jay-jay sealed up (I can see obvious issues with this plan, but who am I to judge?). Mary takes about 25 seconds to decide that she’s cool with this arrangement and soon gets to work.
The surgery scenes are actually very well done (and I credit the female directors for this). They aren’t for the squeamish but they aren’t gratuitously gruesome. Mary, in fact, is quite tender with her first (second) patient and it’s quite touching. After the deed is done, Mary tells Bea what to do with Ruby, aftercare-wise, and then tells her not to give her details out to anybody else.
As Mary is leaving, Bea asks her what she wants to be called on Ruby’s website, as she will have to be mentioned in some way to the body modification community. Mary says she doesn’t mind. After the surgery, Mary is sick again but recovers much quicker.
Round about here I’m going to hold back a little and just tell you that Bea turns up again (Yey! I was worried she’d be a one scene wonder) and gives Mary a present from Ruby. Mary goes about her bizniz at the hospital (being a proper student, yo) and gets in with Dr. Walsh, an important looking surgeon at the hospital.
He invites her to an exclusive drinks party at an undisclosed address later that evening, stating that everyone is very impressed with her and that Dr. Grant (Grumpy professor) had recommended that she be invited. She arrives wearing the amazing dress gifted to her by Ruby.
Basically, all the red flags are flapping as Mary enters the party but she doesn’t notice because she’s a good, conscientious girl. Something bad does happen to her and it’s nasty (and hard to watch). Though it is a necessary scene in terms of setting the tone of the rest of the movie, so I understand why it had to be included.
Once home, Mary has visibly changed and she wastes no time. Revenge is on her mind and this is where Billy (and his lovely henchman, Lance) come back in. I should say here that I forgot to mention a conversation Mary has with Dr. Grant at the party, before her horrifying ordeal begins. The gist of it is this, he tells Mary that as long as they make no mistakes as surgeons, everything else they do is forgiven (RED FLAG, MARY! RED FLAG!). Mary doesn’t buy this (because she is inherently good) but takes it on board.
But back to vigilante justice. Billy and Lance deliver a special care package to her loft in the form of one Grumpy professor. The message is clear: don’t rape people. Ever.
Mary is starting to show more of any interest in the body modification community, having stumbled across a website called abstrakt.me. This leads to some creativity thinking and thankfully she now has a guinea pig to practice on. Eek!
Mary gets good at the old body mod and starts to drum up a nice little business for herself. Lance seems to be on the payroll now too, which I love (he’s so cute!). Meanwhile, a detective appears and he’s investigating the disappearance of Dr. Grant. He’s been given a list of students Dr. Grant may have harmed (by Dr. Walsh) and he wants to talk to them. Mary plays it cool and the Detective seems well-meaning but leaves.
Billy is falling in love with Mary and keeps dreaming about her. Mary tells him about the Detective and Dr. Walsh’s involvement. He asks her if she wants him to take care of Walsh. She says no.
Beatrice takes Mary for coffee and they stop off at Ruby’s studio for some information that Bea wants her to have. While there, Mary sees a picture of Ruby with a man. Bea tells her it’s Ruby’s husband. Bea then reveals that abstrakt.me are interested in Mary’s work and want to meet with her. She agrees to meet them at Billy’s club.
The twins sent by abstrakt.me (or are they abstrakt.me?) make quite the entrance and head to Billy’s office. They lay out their plans to Mary and tell her that she has quite the following. They also tell her that she’s referred to underground as ‘Bloody Mary’. They advise her that she needs to think about all this herself and consider setting up her own website as people will be looking for her. She asks them if they’re free Friday for their body mod op.
Mary performs the procedures requested by the twins and then goes off to do something while they’re still unconscious. I won’t reveal but during this outing, Mary ends up committing her first murder. Shocked and appalled by what she’s done, she calls Billy (who’s busy beating someone up) who sends Lance (lovely Lance). Lance buys Mary dinner and they talk about how bad she feels.
Lance breaks it down, telling the story of a woman he knows who was horribly abused by an intruder and found four days later. He says he wishes he’d known Mary back then. He then tells her to never devalue what she does and just make sure the people she chooses deserve it. This speech cheers her up no end, so well done Lance, you cutie.
Mary moves because she’s got loads of cash now and starts to take pictures in her professional looking studio for her website. As she’s pottering around, having just completed a dick splitting op, the Detective appears again and tells her that Dr. Walsh is now missing. He then tells Mary that they found a video of the girls Dr. Grant has abused. She asks if she is on the tape. He says she wasn’t but that he still believes she was one of his victims.
Turns out Billy has involved himself even though she asked him not to and has the tape. He lurves Mary, you see. Sadly she walks in on him being sucked off by a stripper. Mary gets a little jealous so we know she likes him too. He tells her that he needs a change of scenery and is thinking of driving down to Cali. He asks her to go with him and she says she’ll think about it, as she might need a change too.
She heads home… and there’s an ending. You can figure that out for yourself.
Loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it. I should probably admit that this week was my choice and that this movie has been on my Netflix list for some time. My reason for picking it was purely selfish.
I have a massive crush on Katherine Isabelle obviously, because the fact she’s the lead in this was what peaked my interest in the first place. The plot itself was a close second as I love the idea of self-expression and body positivity that flows throughout. Even if you do feel you have to seek it out through modification (which is A-OK with me). Katherine, you may remember, was also the star of Ginger Snaps, the first film Jill and I collaborated on.
Sure, it’s not a perfect film, there’s probably no such thing (maybe Kill Bill (2003)?), but that’s perfectly fine by me. It’s about enjoyment and this was superb. As I mentioned above, I like the themes involved, I’m also a sucker for vigilante justice.
I think the fact that this movie is presented by women, namely the Soska sisters, has something to do with the way it was handled. It’s graphic to a point but doesn’t ram its message down your throat. When the unthinkable happens to Mary, it’s done in a subtle way. It’s not done in the same way as, say, Last House on the Left (2009). And believe me, as a viewer, this makes a difference, if a scene like this absolutely has to feature for the sake of the story.
It’s inventive, empowering in places (in terms of taking control/fighting back) and it’s fun. It’s definitely one of the best modern horror films of recent times, in my eyes anyway. Katherine is a dream and I also have big love for some of the smaller characters; for Beatrice and for Lance, in particular.
I do feel very strongly about self-acceptance, but I think it’s down to the individual how they love themselves. If arriving at a place of self love means changing things, however big or small, then why not? I know my tattoos are a more socially accepted form of modification and I love them more than anything.
All in all, this was a great film and I hope the horror genre continues to give us more of the same calibre. I’m done with the Insidious films and of never seeing anything new or intriguing.
Incidentally, my sister-in-law is doing a masters in film and is currently working on her second film. She’s focusing (at the moment) on the horror/ghost story genre and, although I’ve always been interested in films of this nature, I’ve been reading more about women in film/horror and it’s exciting. See Screen Queens for a really good blog on the subject. And if you want to, please check out my lovely sis’ production blog too.
5 surgical knives out of 5
That might seem like a generous rating for an imperfect movie but I’m sticking by it. It was just interesting enough to keep me engrossed until the end (the Soskas have talked about an alternative conclusion, which they almost went with) and I liked the characters, though more padding would have made it even better. Basically, I loved it.
Pop over to Jillian’s to see what she thought.
All images via Google.