This is the second medical themed gory thriller I’ve seen this year but this is very different from Excision which had most of its gore occurring in a fantasy world while the gore in this film is mostly very real. It gets into the world of illegal body modification and is written and directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska who certainly seem to be insiders in this world. I think it has been mis-marketed as a horror film since it is more a ofdramatic thriller
Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) is a medical student who is struggling to earn the money to put herself through medical school. She really wants to be a surgeon but she can barely afford to pay her mobile phone bill and her professor Dr Grant (David Lovgren) is ready to kick out of his class if she doesn’t turn up on time. She sees an advert for strippers at a club in the city and goes along with her résumé which amuses the owner Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo). He asks to see her real qualifications for this job and she strips to her underwear. Billy asks her to give him a neck message when his security man Lance (Twan Holliday) interrupts them with an emergency and Billy offers Mary five thousand dollars if she helps him. We never find out how it happened but they have man in one room missing an eye and covered in blood from various cuts. He’s in pain and bleeding to death and it’s up to Mary to save him.
One of the strippers at the club Beatress Johnson (Tristan Risk) starts pestering Mary for help which demonstrates how stupid the résumé idea was since Beatress would never have found her without it. Beatress has had some very radical modification surgery to make her look like the cartoon character Betty Boop and this may include surgical modification of her voice-box too because she sounds like her too. Beatress offers Mary lots of money to help a friend of hers called Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg) with some radical reconstruction of her body to match her ideal of femininity and Mary agrees.
Now Mary’s financial problems are over she tries to carry on with her studies but learn that her respected teachers are a bunch of lowlifes with no real respect for other people. This leads to an incident that I shall not spoil but Mary quits medical school and investigates the practice of body modification surgery for herself. This involves the use of an unwilling victim to practice her techniques on. She enlists the help of Billy who gives her a place above his club while Lance helps her out with any difficult clients. She pays Billy and still helps out with any unfortunate medical emergencies.
Mary gets herself a reputation as a skilled surgeon in the body modification community and this includes a visit from a pair of twins (the Soska Sisters themselves in a directors’ cameo) for surgery which will give a real boost to her business. Mary also learns that she has a reputation among Billy’s employees for being a dangerous person to get on the wrong wide of. Even Billy seems to think she’s dangerous but he’s fallen for her anyway. This reputation leads Mary to have doubts about her sanity and Lance gives her some reassurance that the people she hurt or caused to be hurt were not innocent victims and don’t deserve her guilt over their fate which is not completely true and Mary knows it.
I enjoyed this film and didn’t find it too gory or exploitative even if the subject seemed to be perfect for the torture porn treatment. Instead of gore this story gives us character drama. I‘m not sure about the ending which, even if it was foreshadowed, felt like it was forced in just to give the story an ending. I think this film is trying to give us a picture of the body modification community and Mary is the access point for the viewer, starting out as repelled then becoming an involved advocate. The dangers are clearly linked to the illegal nature of the surgery rather than to any medical problems. The film does go a bit too far in portraying surgeons operating legally as total bastards, which is a bit harsh but I can understand where that is coming from. With all that in mind I still think it’s worth watching
- Rotten Tomatoes
- Review: American Mary (comicbooked.com)
- The Soska sisters are the new faces of horror (guardian.co.uk)