'American Mary' – Feminist Horror or More Genre Exploitation?

'American Mary' – Feminist Horror or More Genre Exploitation?

Women showed they could be just as raunchy–and hilarious–as the men with the 2011 hit comedy Bridesmaids. Can women similarly crash the horror genre?

If American Mary is any indication, a Bridesmaids-style breakthrough isn’t in the cards yet.

Sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska wrote and directed American Mary, a horror film coming to home video June 18. The duo’s second feature (their first film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, cost $2,500) follows a promising medical student named Mary (Katharine Isabelle) who does body modification surgery on the side to make ends meet.

Split tongues. Horns. Genital tinkering.

What follows is a creepy look at one woman’s descent into a black market teeming with broken psyches, a shot across the bow at the male-dominated medical profession and a film without a compelling third act.

At times, American Mary feels like a spiritual cousin to The Human Centipede, but that film bolstered its unsettling content with a perfect combination of restraint and exhibition and a bravura turn by Dieter Laser. Mary counters with some disturbing imagery, practical FX that includes a monstrously idealized Betty Boop recreation (actress Tristan Risk in a chilling turn) and cool cinematography that shows the sisters heart the horror genre.

What a shame, then, that Isabelle dials down Mary so much it’s hard to invest in her emotionally for better or much worse. It’s a measured take on a complicated character, one ultimately let down by a script which isn’t sure what direction to turn.

And what do we take away from this bloody Mary? Our heroine has no guilt over turning patients into physical novelties, like when she surgically removes a woman’s nipples and private area to make her more like a sexless doll.

Is it empowerment to take control over one’s body, or are they simply reacting to the horrors that may have been inflicted upon them earlier in life? And while Mary is a strong character who assumes command of her own future, no matter how one disagrees with her choices, do we need to see her in stripper-style sequences that don’t move the plot forward one inch?

Horror desperately needs new blood–pun thoroughly unintended. So female auteurs with a hankering for scares are more than welcome to follow the Soskas’ lead. They aren’t the first female directors on the horror scene, but they’ve arrived at a time when the genre is looking for a new direction that doesn’t involve zombies or vampires.

The sisters themselves may be one movie away from changing the dynamics of the scare scene all by themselves. They’ve already started some conversations with American Mary. They just need to take the next creative step.