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‘American Mary’ latest entry in the kinky flesh genre

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‘AMERICAN MARY’ ★★

Mary Katherine Isabelle

Billy Antonio Cupo

Beatrice Tristan Risk

Dr. Grant David Lovgren

IndustryWork Pictures presents a film written and directed by Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska. Running time: 102 minutes. Rated R (for strong aberrant violent content, including disturbing images, torture, a rape, sexual content, graphic nudity; strong language and brief drug use). Opening Friday at Facets Cinematheque.

Updated: July 1, 2013 7:22AM



Katharine Isabelle, famous to horror buffs as a teen werewolf in the “Ginger Snaps” trilogy, morphs into a Seattle surgery student in “American Mary.” Scalpels, saws and stitches — not lycanthropic curses, however — transform bodies in this Canadian-produced horror film from the makers of “Dead Hooker in a Trunk” (2009).

Mary (Isabelle), a med school drop-out, starts paying her bills by working as a free-lance surgeon. Her specialty is “extreme body modification.” Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska, the film’s writer-directors, also appear as Berlin-based twins in this grisly thriller. (Identical twins, they call their film company Twisted Twin Productions.) The siblings hire Mary to amputate, switch and then reattach their left arms so they can feel closer. For the 14-hour procedure, Mary is joined by a German surgeon who invokes Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who notoriously experimented on twins (among others) at Auschwitz.

The Soskas draw on Vancouver’s “body mod” scene for various background characters with star-shaped areolas, split tongues and demon horn implants. One character hangs from the ceiling on hooks piercing the skin on his back. The filmmakers claim this is real, although admit to faking the corset-like grommets embedded in their own characters’ laced-up bare backs. Despite such efforts at verisimilitude, the film has very little to say about this subculture.

‘We’re very into third-wave feminism, where a woman can own her sexuality,” said Jen Soska to the Guardian newspaper when this film opened in the United Kingdom. In “American Mary,” that takes the improbable form of a woman undergoing multiple surgeries to look like the cartoon character Betty Boop. A Barbie doll is the ideal for another. She pays Mary to slice off her nipples and the “extra bits” of genitalia. Desexualizing herself is supposedly liberating.

“American Mary” expresses its vague themes with song lyrics such as “I want your body/You want my body” and “I love myself/I hate myself.” The film uses three versions of “Ave Maria” in an attempt to lend significance to Mary’s pursuits. The Soskas’ “vision” statement about “a society where the economy is constant downfall” and “the struggle for success while creating a personality on the surface” does not clarify.

Driving the plot is Mary’s quest for revenge against her surgeon mentors who drugged, raped and videotaped her at a party. The gruesome finale is triggered by another man lashing out at her and one of her clients. Will Mary survive by applying her surgical skills to her own gashed gut?

In the end credits, the Soskas dedicate their film to Eli Roth, the American filmmaker who started the “Hostel” slasher franchise. But the Soskas’ alternative horror exercise feels closer to that Canadian strain of kinky flesh films such as Brandon Cronenberg’s “Antiviral,” David Cronenberg’s “Crash” and Lynne Lynne Stopkewich’s “Kissed.” The Soskas, though, fail to suture their cinematic parts into an insightful fright.

Bill Stamets is a Chicago free-lance writer and reviewer.



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