The horror genre has suffered from one mind-numbing remake after another in recent years, so American Mary hits the scene like a breath of fresh air with its creativity and originality. The slick, stylish production is from the twisted minds of the Soska sisters, putting a new spin on the slasher genre while making the concept relevant for modern audiences. Directors Jen & Sylvia Soska have taken the topic of extreme body modification and turned the subject into an entertaining, if gruesome, thriller.
Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle) is working hard in medical school to become a surgeon, when the bills begin to mount beyond her control. Forced to look for sources of quick money, Mary pushes herself to apply for a job at the local strip club. Auditioning for the strip club’s seedy manager and resident low-life, Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo), a situation arises that requires immediate surgery. Billy is aware of Mary’s skills as a surgeon from her resumé and offers her $5000, if she’ll perform the black market surgery.
After some hesitancy, Mary quickly capitulates to Billy’s demands and performs the surgery. That is not the end of her adventures in the world of underground surgery, but only the beginning. Beatress (Tristan Risk), one of Billy’s strippers, soon offers Mary even more money if she’ll perform a radical body mod to her good friend, Ruby. Beatress is obsessed with looking like Betty Boop and has had a serious amount of plastic surgery to accomplish her dreams. Ruby wants to make herself a living plastic doll all over her body, by removing her nipples and other features that dolls lack.
Mary’s work quickly becomes noticed in the world of extreme body modifications and develops a following of clients, since reputable doctors will often decline the work. Swimming in money from her body mod jobs, her teacher at medical school invites her to a private party with other surgeons. The implications are quite clear that the social engagement is nothing more than a chance for Dr. Grant (David Lovgren) to hit on Mary.
What happens at the party is the pivotal moment in the film, when it goes from just another thriller to the next evolution of psychotic killers. I won’t spoil it, but something terrible happens to Mary which forces her to drop out of medical school and become a full-time specialist for body mods. Her personality completely shifts from sane person to a woman looking for vengeance, using her specialized surgical skills to enact that vengeance. There is a twist in the second act that will take almost everyone by complete surprise, even if you know there is one. The only faltering storyline is a mishandled relationship between Mary and Billy.
American Mary (ironically Canadian tax credits financed the movie) features a smart script with a few cool tricks up its sleeve. Katherine Isabelle, most known for her role in the classic werewolf film, Ginger Snaps, owns this sexy role as a woman that completely snaps and uses her talents in a very creative but sick manner. Mary is a killer and unpredictable, but the character’s evolution from gifted medical student to where she ends up is completely believable. Every horror aficionado will want to catch American Mary on home video.
Low-budget productions made outside of Hollywood used to have fairly poor video quality, due to the vagaries of expensive 35mm film. American Mary is part of a new breed in the horror genre, digitally shot on the RED EPIC camera. One quickly realizes the independent movie has been carefully shot by cinematographer Brian Pearson, producing results that are often quite stunning. XLrator Media has given American Mary a strong technical presentation with only a few hiccups. The clean video is polished and superb, one will be hard-pressed to realize this movie had a limited budget.
Video quality is consistently excellent with pristine resolution and depth. The transfer has been left unmolested by sharpening or filtering, leaving the precision image intact without a hint of digital smearing or ringing. Going against the colorless trend of modern horror, the color palette remains saturated. Only a touch of flat black levels could be held against the video quality. High-frequency detail is evident in close-ups, though the cinematography largely avoids the extreme close-ups that reveal the highest levels of micro-fidelity.
The 102:41-minute main feature has been encoded in AVC, on a BD-25. The video encode nearly averages 20 Mbps, the one aspect that falters on occasion in the picture. For the most part, compression artifacts are invisible to the naked eye. The troublesome scenes are where faint banding pops up, which could have been easily eliminated with another pass on the encoder.
American Mary’s only audio offering is a solid 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack that does nothing exceptional. It lacks an elaborate sound design with its limited usage of the surround channels but spreads the audio presentation nicely across the front soundstage. Dialogue is crystal-clear and the musical passages come through in pleasing fidelity. Composer Peter Allen’s score is filled with typical horror cues, though the music selection is smart and appropriate for each scene. The opening scene is set to a lovely rendering of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” that helps set the tone for the rest of the movie.
While no one will pick this movie as an audio demo for their home theater, the score and soundtrack serve the movie very well. Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are included in a white font, which remain inside the 2.40:1 frame at all times.
XLrator Media has included a few special features for this very original horror movie. The featurette is largely superfluous, but the main attraction is the feature-length audio commentary.
Audio Commentary by Directors Jen & Sylvia Soska, actresses Katherine Isabelle and Tristan Risk – This freewheeling discussion is predominantly led by the sister duo that wrote and directed American Mary. It is not for the prudish, the sisters’ energetic comments are full of expletives. Katherine Isabelle obviously recorded her portion of the commentary from a remote location, which makes it much tougher to understand her as the sound quality is abysmal. Par for the course, one will learn a lot of minor production tidbits in the commentary as the participants explain some of their experiences on the film.
The Making of American Mary (17:32 in 1080P) – This featurette is almost entirely composed of on-set footage and behind-the-scenes type material. The camera closely follows the two directors as scenes are being filmed, though there are some brief comments from cast members. Unless one is a die-hard fan of the movie, this special feature can be skipped.
American Mary’s Trailer (01:35 in 1080P)
Other Trailers (02:55 in 1080P) – Trailers for two other films, Saturday Morning Mystery and Inbred, precede the main menu.
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