Ever since I saw the Soska sisters’ first feature, Dead Hooker in a Trunk (sometimes the title can also be the plot), I couldn’t wait to see what they did next. These ladies knew horror, they weren’t afraid of gore or difficult subject matter and in every interview I read, I really respected their philosophy and their openness about the genre and their personal experiences working in it. DHiaT was funny, gory, made on the very cheap and showed so much potential. So when I heard that they had made another film, titled American Mary and starring the very talented Katharine Isabelle, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I looked forward to seeing what they could do with some more money and some more time.
Oh man, was I not disappointed.
That American Mary is an incredibly accomplished film, which should be obvious to most anyone who watches it. Before we even talk about the acting, the atmosphere and look of the film should be mentioned. The film is beautiful to look at – the lighting and the cinematography are just gorgeous. It seemed to me that the lighting would change when Mary changed. The film starts out in with the bright whites and more traditional color palettes, and as Mary descends into madness, the light becomes grimy and sallow. As Mary vacillates between confused and wounded student, badass doctor and sociopath, we get many shots that alternate between natural sunlight and ones lit only in stark neons. Purposeful or not (and with those ladies, I’m betting it was a plan), it’s impactful.
Our doctor is played by Katharine Isabelle, and she – as well as the rest of the cast – acquit themselves well, though Isabelle deserves special mention. She’s in nearly every minute of the film, and had the actress chosen not been able to handle the subtle shifts within Mary that eventually explode into violent tendencies, the film would have been in major trouble. Lucky for us all, Isabelle’s talent shines in all of her scenes, and she plays Mary on the razor’s edge of sanity without letting the character ever become a cliché or a caricature. And neither the Soskas nor Isabelle are afraid to show that Mary does become a monster, which is a pretty brave choice. Lady slashers are very rare (Inside being perhaps the best recent example), and I’m so pleased that the Soskas allow Mary to become a villain. Even though slashers like Mary are almost always played by men, all of these ladies make it clear that gender has nothing to do with being scary, crazy or intimidating. Mary is all of these and more.
If it wasn’t clear by now, I thoroughly recommend American Mary and the Soska sisters. It’s a very strong genre work by smart, fun, talented directors. The learning curve for these ladies is incredible – the rise in quality from DHiaT to American Mary is pretty amazing. I never thought I would say that I can’t wait to see See No Evil 2, but with the Soskas in charge, I’m totally in.