FrightFest 2012: American Mary

The Soskas have delivered a truly original and compelling piece with their wonderful black comedy

FrightFest 2012: American Mary

Easily one of the strongest offerings at this year’s festival , the Soska Sisters (aka the Twisted Twins) have delivered a refreshingly original, confident film to mark themselves out as a force to be reckoned with in the horror world.

Mary (Katharine Isabelle) is a promising medical student, on the verge of qualifying as a surgeon, when money troubles lead her to apply for a job at a sleazy strip joint. A crisis during the interview means her skills are needed, and she finds herself known for her abilities with a scalpel. Soon after, she is contacted by a host of unusual characters, seeking to enlist her help in the bizarre pursuit of extreme body modification.

The most pleasing thing about American Mary is that we are given a truly original horror film, which is a rare beast indeed these days. That the Soskas have provided a genuine female voice in the genre is almost a mere bonus when put next to the film itself, a skilfully shot and thoughtfully written black comedy piece that has so much to offer its audience beyond the splatter it would have been reduced to in less capable hands.

The main achievement is in the character work, with Mary a fully three-dimensional human being, her motives clearly established but never contrived, and her arc feeling, apart from one strange leap towards the end, as natural and logical as anything within the world of the narrative. Isabelle puts in a tremendous performance, scoring big with both Mary’s defensive wit and occasional dash of menace, working hand in hand with the script to great effect. Other characters are the same – this could so easily have felt like a reactionary piece with the themes it entails (the film overtly challenges sexism), but every male character is painted in an equally developed fashion, with Antonio Cupo’s club owner retaining just the right amount of pathos to work, and Twan Halliday stealing a scene or two as a rough but wise bouncer.

The more gruesome elements of the plot work in the best way possible – by playing on the imagination. For every swipe of a scalpel, puncture of a needle or slice of flesh, we actually see very little on screen. Crediting its audience with the imagination to be grossed out without having it graphically splashed across the screen is just the right way to play a story like this, and it comes off perfectly.

Of course, the film is not perfect – as mentioned above, one or two character moments do come out of nowhere, and the motivations are clouded towards the end, resulting in a slightly rushed climax. These are slight considerations when taking the whole film into account, however, and with this the Twisted Twins have marked themselves out as filmmakers to be taken very seriously indeed, in the horror genre and beyond.