Tuesday, September 24, 2013

American Mary (2012): Feminism through Independence

American Mary (2012)
dir: Jen and Sylvia Soska

Last month, we had a variety of rape-revenge movies directed by men.  There was The Woman by Lucky McKee, I Spit On Your Grave by Mier Zarchi, and Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives by Israel Luna.  Ticked-Off Trannies had men either in drag or identifying as women getting raped, but the other two are women getting raped.  We explored the differences between them, and how the point of view of The Woman makes it much more problematic than I Spit On Your Grave, even if it shies away from the actual acts.

In 2012, Jen and Sylvia Soska made their second horror movie, American Mary, a rape-revenge horror movie they combined with the body horror genre, the Giallo genre, and the coming of age genre.  While the end result of this genre mashing isn't disturbing, scary or intense, it is moody, gothy, tense at times, and wholly fascinating.

American Mary refers to Mary Mason, a young medical student studying to be a surgeon of some kind. She has financial difficulties, and is targeted by her professor for various minor indiscretions, such as a phone ringing in class or missing a lecture. While the audience may think that some sort of reprimand is justified (letting your phone ring in class is just plain rude), Dr Grant seems to take special delight in making the reprimand seem personal and harsh.

In order to make ends meet, Mary applies to become a stripper, but due to a last minute circumstance, ends up performing surgery on a guy who has been tortured for whatever reason.  The motivations of a strip club owner torturing guys and removing their eyeballs is never made completely clear, but the owner says "no questions" and the movie just lets it flow.

Following this surgery, she is contacted by a stripper named Beatress, who has been getting plastic surgery to make her look like Betty Boop (if you squint your eyes).  Beatress has a friend, Ruby, who wants to be turned into a doll.  And, by "turned into a doll," Ruby wants to have her nipples and labia removed, and her vagina closed up as much as possible.  This is because Ruby wants to be idealized and not sexualized.

Meanwhile, at her residency, Mary is noted for her professional bedside manner, and is invited to a late-night after-hours party by Dr. Walsh...where she is drugged and raped (onscreen, briefly, but clothed) by Dr. Grant.  For whatever reason, she doesn't go to the cops, but drops out of med school, and decides to go into underground body modification surgery, where she eventually develops a good reputation under the name Bloody Mary.

But, first, she must exact revenge on Dr. Grant by performing her first BME surgeries (without anesthetic), including teeth filing, genital mutilation, tongue splitting, and amputation.  Weirdly, this series of surgeries happens offscreen, with a flourish of a body-mod hand drawing.

Bloody Mary becomes a bigger and bigger success in the BME community as time goes by.  She earns a reputation, and puts together a website, as well as does a series of surgeries on a pair of twins who run an influential website, or something.  The cops come snooping around the missing Dr. Grant.  But, they find nothing.

At some point, the movie mildly treads water in a reverse CSI mode, where we think the cops keep getting closer. When the movie has padded it's running time enough, it decides to kick in the finale. Finally, after all this time (which seems like weeks, if not months...especially since her reputation needed to develop), Ruby's husband sees the surgery she had, and kills Ruby, beats Beatress, and then attacks Mary, stabbing her.  But, Mary sews herself up to die of internal bleeding. Yeah, it is a bit out of the blue.

Outside of the completely left field ending, the movie is well executed and just plain moody.  It may be disturbing to people not into BME, but to those used to it, it is mainly just a picture about a girl who does surgery for awhile, with some detectives following her.  It's almost Giallo-esque, but it doesn't have the blood and gore scenes to back that up.  It's very body horror, but it rarely gets close to the surgeries to be in that horrific.  But, what it is is political.

In interviews, the Soska sisters have said that they started out as actresses where they would end up with bit parts that sounded like a Vivid resume.  Hooker #2 this, or Call Girl that. And, they wrote Dead Hooker in a Trunk to mock that.  Then, they wrote American Mary as a response to the idea that there really was no big named horror villain that was a female.  There was no real female equivalent of Jason or Freddy. And, in the vein of American Psycho, they chose to make the whole movie about the villain.

As such, they've made a movie about rape, rape culture, and feminine power in the face of it all.  While there are 5 speaking male characters, 3 are rather rapey (Billy Barker, Dr Grant and Dr Walsh) while 2 are rather nice.  And, Mary's only 2 "victims" are Dr. Grant and a security guard who comes across her and her post-surgery Dr. Grant.  Mary isn't a psychotic serial killer.  She just does body mods, and she is doing things her way.

The movie is also notable for its female point of view.  Some of the strippers who are at the club want to be strippers.  Beatress, looking like Betty Boop, seems to be making shittons of money stripping.  She is able to just randomly throw thousands of dollars on her friend's surgery ($12,200 to be exact) and provide some cocaine on top of it.  How?  I dunno!  And, the camera looks at female bodies, but is only lingering when a man is in the room.

It is all about the female perspective.

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