Review: American Mary

In 2000, American Psycho – an indictment of urban American yuppie culture – was released to some controversy. It was directed by Canadian Mary Harron. This year sees the UK release of American Mary, a Canadian production whose creators are fans of not only Mary Harron's work, but that of Tarantino, Rodriguez, and Davids Lynch and Cronenberg.

The fingerprints of these directors – and of John Waters – are all over American Mary, which contains a great premise, some compelling themes and some awful performances. The Soska sisters, despite directing with a sense of flair and fun, are the main culprits of the atrocious acting, star as twisted twins with weirdly unconvincing German accents. Sometimes, directors' appearances in their own work are inspired: Martin Scorsese in Taxi Driver and Roman Polanski in Chinatown spring to mind. Here, the twins' fortunately brief cameo comes off as hubristic. And Katharine Isabelle needs to work on her delivery: on the evidence of this film, she doesn't quite know how to pull off ‘nonchalant adolescent who undergoes psychological trauma', and only really becomes convincing when the death toll starts to climb.

Speaking of which: the premise. Brilliant med student has attitude, but is broke. Med student turns to seedy bar work, and within a few hours finds herself beginning to penetrate the disturbing underworld of body modification. Med student makes much money, is raped, and decides to wreak her revenge. OK, so the fundamental premise that a med school student suddenly becomes renowned and rich (for a student) in subterranean society is pretty far-fetched, but the plot is merely an excuse to a) shower everything with blood, and b) explore themes of superficiality, fashion and individualism in an interesting way. The Soska sisters succeed on both counts. They may go a bit too far in lambasting the world of conventional surgery – not a single surgeon comes across as normal or humane – but ultimately, they make some insightful comments on the inherent similarities between body modification and cosmetic surgery, and bring an interesting (if by no means new) feminist twist to the tale.

The film is too slick to be an exploitation film, and too silly to be taken seriously as a horror, a drama or a black comedy. Ultimately, though, the Soskas' twisted sensibilities produce a work that raises some interesting and important questions, and while it's more concerned with its violence-and-freakiness quota than with answering these questions, those – such as myself – who are increasingly worried about some of the preoccupations of Western society may find that this film shares their concerns.

Arjun Sajip

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