It’s probable that this film will be difficult to market to audiences. Going into the screening, one really didn’t know what to expect. Would it be torture porn, or could it have a little more substance? But Toronto After Dark’s screening of “American Mary” exceeded expectations, delivering a dark exploration of greed and expression as a talented woman pursues the American dream by making her clients’ eccentric desires reality.
Mary (Katharine Isabelle) is a medical student with a lot of potential. She’s an exemplary surgery resident that gained the attention of several of her teachers. Desperate to continue funding her education, Mary accepts an unusual patient request off the books that introduces her to the world of underground surgeries. When a party invitation turns out to be more than she bargained for, Mary quits school and rises through the ranks of body modification surgeons. But as she gains further notoriety, outsiders become closer to discovering a secret that could ruin her career.
This is a challenging film. It defies any single definition, but is exceptional in so many ways. Canadian writers/directors Jen and Sylvia Soska, a.k.a The Soska Twins, achieve in creating a dark, amusing and, most importantly, captivating film, that takes audiences on a unique journey. Not only are viewers inside Mary’s head, but they are invited into the intriguing world of body modification.
Isabelle is outstanding. Her performance is chilling as she acts without emotion in every situation. Mary’s support for her clients and their modifications is always offered with a fake smile. She’s mostly motivated by her desire to make money and the control these procedures offer her. The more difficult the request, the more she engages. Isabelle definitely achieves a new level in this role.
Overall, it’s also a great looking picture. The primary use of red and black, and the duller day scenes set the tone for the film. And while it’s about cutting into flesh, it’s not excessively bloody. The cinematography always brings the viewer’s eye back to Mary as it is her behaviour driving the narrative, not necessarily the procedures she performs.
The Soska Twins show a lot of depth in their filmmaking, producing an intriguing movie that you can’t take your eyes off of.
The 7th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs October 18-26 at The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
Directors: Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska
Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo and Tristan Risk
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