Back in the Jurassic Era, when I was sitting A’Level English Literature, I wrote an essay about how psychopathic and sociopathic behaviour, as displayed by Shakespeare’s dramatic interpretation of Richard the III, can be an appealing trait in lead characters. Audiences seem to enjoy seeing the protagonist get away with outrageous behaviour outside of societal norms. Basically, I was extolling to fun of being allowed to do horrible things, as is evidenced by films like American Mary (2012) and The Killer Inside Me (2013).
Mary is a brilliant, but failing and financially challenged medical student, who is drugged and date-raped by her professor. After this traumatic episode, she drops out of medical school and inadvertently falls into the extreme body-mod underground. There she finds her true vocation as ‘Doctor Mary’, the go-to quack for extreme body-modifications, and I’m not talking about anything so mundane as piercings. This extensive and very bloody experience inspires her to extract a particularly protracted and awful revenge on her rapist.
My problems with the movie are twofold. First, there a few too many ideas floating around the central theme of straight revenge horror. There’s Cronenbergian body-shock horror, torture-porn and the psychology of detachment, but not enough time to explore these themes fully. For example, the blurring of lines between the professional detachment required by surgeons and the predisposition for detachment displayed by those with psychopathic and/or sociopathic disorders could be a film in itself. My second problem is that there is one particular scene that bears an overly striking resemblance to events that take place in Wagner and Locke’s graphic novel: A History of Violence.
I think it is telling that American Mary is only the second, low-budget feature of North Vancouver’s (yay ‘couver!) Soska sisters. I can see the influence of Dexter, Japanese body-horror/revenge flicks, as well as the aforesaid shadow of David Cronenberg looming large. Although the film feels rushed and disjointed, I feel it to be promising, though it should only be viewed by those with very strong stomachs. Mary is played disturbing well by Ginger Snaps (2000) actress Katharine Isabelle.