Posts Tagged ‘American Mary’

Girls-Against-Boys-2012-Movie-PosterPerhaps it’s tempting to lean on exploitative visuals to tell certain stories or explore particular ideas. For instance, I Spit On Your Grave is now a three film “franchise”, featuring the Meir Zarchi original (1978) and two modern retellings / reimaginings. These films are known for pushing the boundaries of cinematic acceptability over the edge into blatant exploitation. The film-makers justify the exploitative imagery by pointing to the themes of the films: how else could / should the story of a woman’s violation and need for vengeance be told except explicitly? And shouldn’t the cinematic portrayal of the woman’s violation be just as explicit and vile as her cinematic acts of vengeance? Isn’t cathartic cinema valuable? And how dare the audience shy away from merely seeing such a violation when so many women actually experience similar atrocities?

Yeah, I don’t know about all that. All I know is that I’ve seen all three I Spit On Your Grave films, and I walked away from each one feeling that justice and awareness and communication weighed far less than amplified shock value in the filmmaker’s process. I could be wrong, but these films felt more pornographic – in their treatment of both violation and vengeance – than honestly cathartic.

Girls Against Boys, despite its dramatic title and provocative poster, does not rely on exploitation to explore similar issues of violation and vengeance. It’s more akin to films like Teeth and American Mary, working more in visual subtlety, relying more on the strength of the narrative and the precision of good performances, which is a far-cry from simply being “tasteful” in dealing with a delicate situation.

Girls Against Boys tells the story of Shae (Danielle Panabaker) who befriends Lu (Nicole LaLiberte) shortly after a nasty break-up and immediately before falling victim to a new possible love interest. Shae reaches out to family and friends for support, but no one proves available except Lu. And if hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned, Lu gladly saddles up alongside Shae as fury personified. The girls quickly become a Thelma and Louise pair hell-bent on vengeance, but inevitably the vengeance reaches farther than anticipated.

On the surface (and by mere appearance), Girls Against Boys looks like a simple bad-girl-with-a-gun B-grade sleeper, but there’s some real heart to the telling of Shae’s story. Kudos to writer / director Austin Chick for rising above the possible trenches of genre trappings and avoiding simple exploitation maneuvers. He’s created, instead, a unique character study of a young woman caught a painfully dichotomous mindset. Not to mention, I never imagined the nonchalant enjoyment of Captain Crunch could be so creepy. Girls Against Boys gets a solid 3.5 geisha blades out of 5. Here’s proof again that the viewer’s imagination and sympathies are far more vicious than any camera’s eye.

Non-horror hounds often asked what is the “scariest” horror film I’ve ever seen. It’s a fair question, seeing as how most horror directors do intend to scare their audiences, but the question limits the possibilities of truly good and interesting horror. Although I rarely take the time to explore this issue with inquisitors, instead naming a few horror films that freaked my stuff out (Alien, Rosemary’s Baby, High Tension, the original Night of the Living Dead), my list of favorite horror films would include several titles that wouldn’t be considered “scary”. Often, the best horror does not seek to frighten as much as it seeks to recognize and respond to the grotesque – those unpleasant and unsavory forces in nature and society and spirit most folks prefer to avoid.

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American Mary is such a film. Nothing about American Mary is “scary” per se, but it is twisted and disturbingly sensual. However, far more important than any of these descriptive effects, American Mary is expertly told and masterfully acted, making it the rare horror film that places more emphasis on storytelling than overused genre tenets.

Broke and bored with med school, Mary (Katherine Isabelle, from Ginger Snaps) follows a Craigslist type ad in search of quick cash, a decision that directly rabbit holes Mary into the body modification subculture. The symbiotic relationship between Mary and her clients is almost too perfect – Mary needs money while certain extremely rich women want questionable cosmetic procedures. The women from the body mod community trust Mary because she’s young and attractive, feeling like she might understand their desire to surgically lock their beauty against the strains of time. Mary admittedly does not understand her clients’ impulses until her beauty inspires the source of her pain. At which point, Mary not only exceeds as a celebrity within the community, she also finds vengeful pleasure in practicing her new surgical interests.

I should mention at this point that American Mary‘s directors are sisters, the “Twisted Twins”, Jen and Sylvian Soska. Usually, a director’s gender would hold little to no relevance regarding their film, but, in this case, I found the storyteller’s voice as captivating as the story itself. In no way could anyone suggest that these female filmmakers shied away from the inevitable gore and brutality of Mary’s story, or even from the sensuality of certain characters. Still, I was fascinated by the directors’ visual restraint in a few key scenes, particularly in an early violent scene pitching a male instructor against Mary, favoring instead the emotional impact of Mary’s own personal and internal modifications. The Soska sisters, who make an appearance as twin clients seeking a bizarre form of physical connection, reveal in their direction a keen eye for exploring a character’s inward shifts and motivations. For instance, after her attack and her departure from med school, Mary’s physical beauty and sexuality becomes most evident in her more monstrous moments. The Soska sisters seem to suggest through Mary that misogynist acts have the potential to restructure the core trajectory of a woman’s life as well as her self-image.

Of course I enjoy a horror film with good scares, but what I love most in films – from any genre – are well-told stories with good characters played by strong actors. With this criteria, I give American Mary 3.5 Betty Boop facials out of 5. The Soska sisters are still young, and the film, not surprisingly, feels a bit sophomoric at times. Regardless, at its heart, American Mary is as pure and honest as a grotesque film be.