I…am an American Mary. One of droves. Told by The System that it’s equal opportunity only to then be shown quite clearly, by a boss or male colleague’s actions, otherwise. The truth is still anything but. Hell, America just barely started letting women fight on the frontlines in war and the full reasoning behind that is definitely debatable (forces finally stretched too thin, methinks?) The story is darker still with Mary, played perfectly by Katherine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps). Enrolled in medical school and low on funds and self-esteem, we watch as one of Mary’s professors (David Lovgren, of Smallville) skillfully tears her down…even after it is quite obvious to us as viewers already that she knows her shit. Why do women let men do this to them?
In fact, the whole bloody group of M.D.’s is a bunch of self-proclaimed dominate “fucking mother fuckers” that are disconnected from more than just their students and definitely more interested in freakish, Eyes Wide Shut-like parties than actually helping their students learn. It becomes painfully apparent that Mary may lack a certain warmth or social grace but she cares more for her patients than any of the “real” doctors in the film probably do. Her darkness and tough personality are a perfect match somehow for the underground world of body modification that she unwittingly falls into. Mary is eventually moved by their individual stories and through them, she discovers her own. These are her people. She provides a service no one else is capable of, or willing to provide. To Mary, surgery is Art. And oh, does she Create!
I won’t ruin Mary Mason’s “transformation” into Bloody Mary, the mod-doc, for you but I will say that I found it very powerful. Ironically, it is an act of violence that puts Mary over the edge and squarely on the path to body modification glory. Her transformation is thorough…and necessary. She even walks differently as we watch her shove everything off her text-book packed coffee table in one sweeping gesture, as if to say the whole world is her operating table now. You’re almost twistedly happy that someone has finally pushed her buttons a bit too far. You want to root her on and on. Well, I did anyway. So long to the Mary that went home and cried in the shower.
Writer-director duo Jen and Sylvia Soska are dynamite. This being the Vancouver-based identical twins’ shining sophomore effort after their mad-addictive, and surprisingly poetic at times, micro budget “love letter to Grindhouse” Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009). They even show up as two of Mary’s most important patients, The Demon Twins of Berlin. And as darkly stunning as they look, they also touch upon another center theme of the film. We’re in a culture where we all feel a certain level of disconnect. Through body modification, some individuals are at least finding a way to be more connected to themselves.
I see American Mary as a bit of a homage to Tod Browning’s Freaks (1931). Except in this version the “normal” damsel actually does care for the freak(s) and seeks to help them, in the process finding a home for her strange self as well.
The final scene is just so painfully touching and beautiful. Right up until the end, all Mary wants to do…is ‘keep it together’. The set and colors are amazing, with sensibilities landing somewhere between Cronenberg and Argento. It wasn’t lost on this woman that Mary’s dress matched said set perfectly. The whole bloody, photo-worthy layout possibly being a nod to Katherine Isabelle’s Ginger Snaps days…and definitely more proof that the Soska twins are indeed our beloved Fitzgerald Sisters made flesh. Best disturbing-surgery end scene since Excision (2012).