Movie review: ‘American Mary’ wields a creepy surgical knife

Katharine Isabelle in "American Mary."
(XLrator Media)

“American Mary” is a deceptively benign title for a movie filled with so many sick puppies, twisted sisters and horrific images. But the joke is ultimately on the audience as writer-director siblings Jen and Sylvia Soska allow their film to turn slack and unfocused after an enticingly lurid, wickedly tense first half.

Channeling bits of vintage David Cronenberg and Brian De Palma, the Soskas set their bizarro tale against the outre world of body modification. And it’s into this freaky secret society that Mary (Katharine Isabelle, quite good), a broke, cucumber cool — but conveniently hot — med student, stumbles after she performs an impromptu backroom surgery at the behest of a volatile, cash-dangling strip club owner (Antonio Cupo).

Mary proves such a competent “slasher” (that’s doc talk for surgeon) that she’s soon the go-to gal for a host of, er, unique folks (including goth twins played by the Soskas) seeking fetishistic, frankly ghastly physical changes. While these underground operations largely defy description, suffice to say they’re not for the squeamish.

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But after a traumatic incident propels Mary to use her scalpel skills to exact some seriously ugly revenge, the film falters: Mary turns robotic, a cop investigation lacks juice, and the story’s messaging gets lost in the shuffle.

Still, the Soskas are daring and original artists with undoubtedly many more kooky creepshows in their quiver.


“American Mary.” Rated R for strong aberrant violent content including disturbing images, torture, a rape, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. At TCL’s Chinese 6 Theatres, Hollywood.