Tuesday, August 13, 2013

American Mary

  There are plenty of horror movies with big ambition that just... fail to make the cut. Or any cut. Or even leave any kind of significant impression on the viewer. I can safely say American Mary is not one of those.
I can't say it's a perfect movie, or even a great one, but it's one that's worth it. It feels fresh, from concept to story to execution. The movie is about a med school student, Mary, studying to become a surgeon. Things get rough though when she can't meet any of her bills. She's incredibly broke, and catching flak from a professor. So, she goes onto craigslist looking for a way to make some quick dough. She ends up in a stripclub of sorts, ready to be a dancer. But when something important pulls away her boss-to-be, he returns with a panicked offer of $5000 to employ her surgical knowledge in a one-time, no-questions-asked situation...

  Of course one thing leads to another, and before we know it, she's dropped out of med school, and has made a name for herself in underground body modification surgery. "Bloody Mary" she's dubbed. What's fascinating about this movie is her character's progression from wide-eyed med student, to something sinister. She's the movie's protagonist, and antagonist. Her situations evoke genuine sympathy from the viewer. Things always seem to get worse for mary, either literally or figuratively. We can see this innocent character getting lost in this crazy world she's let herself get dragged into.  The movie is populated with unique and colorful characters, dark seedy locale, and despicable deeds.

  This is the world of American Mary. One might be wondering how this even qualifies as a horror movie all through the first act, maybe even through the second, but by the time you've arrived at the third act... it takes a steely resolve not to be a bit horrified. At the very least unnerved by the road our protagonist has taken, and how it's changed her. It's not a crime drama, it's not a slasher flick, it's a psychological thriller. Yet, it's not cerebral like the movies usually associated with that genre label. It's a very gritty and grounded movie. Which is part of what makes it so unnerving when all is said and done.

  The actress, Katharine Isabelle, is absolutely stupendous here. If I would've liked anything that this movie couldn't give me, was simply more screentime with her. She's simply electrifying. She inhabits the character of Mary with such sincerity and gusto that you can't help but be instantly endeared to her. This movie could've been an hour longer, and it wouldn't have suffered for it. Simply because she's a joy to watch. Vulnerable one moment, steely cold the next. Isabelle sold every moment with frightening realism. I hope this movie gets noticed, it'd be a crime if it flew under the radar for good.

  Parts of this movie border on beautiful, parts feel downright artistic, but make no mistake... in the end, it's haunting. It's an unconventional thriller with engaging characters, fantastic acting, a chilling story and an amazing lead actress. The movie kinda lost me toward the very end. The final message being "you reap what you sow" didn't feel very satisfactory to me as Mary's newfound lifestyle caught up to her in a big way. However it doesn't really detract from what otherwise is one of the most unique, wild, unnerving, and creative horror movies I've seen in... years. I honestly can't recommend it enough. Be warned though, if you're looking for a college slasher flick, look elsewhere. This movie is head and shoulders above that entire trope/subgenre. If you want something fresh, despite a relatively low budget, and some peripheral stiff acting (albeit, infrequent), you've found it. American Mary succeeds in every way that matters, certainly a 'cut' above the rest.

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