Some films can have all the right parts, yet never move as one fluid beast. American Mary is one such film. This Soska Sisters horror from 2012 attempts a lot, but feels more like it is experimenting with what it wants to be as opposed to just being overly-ambitious. It’s a shame as there are a number of threads that show a lot of promise. Unfortunately that is all they remain, failing to join together to become part of a greater tapestry.
At the heart of the story is Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle), a cash-strapped med student. After falling so far behind on payments she is threatened with being kicked off of her course, Mary falls into the world of underground surgeries – something that leaves as many marks on her as her patients.
American Mary gets off to a promising start
As the opening credits roll, we are treated to a montage featuring a turkey dissection backed by Ave Maria. This was something so off-kilter that it really got my hopes up for what was to come. I knew that whatever American Mary turned out to be, it would be quirky and quite possibly supremely messed up. Neither of those assumptions are technically wrong, but it missed the mark I’d hoped it would hit based on the opening credits alone.
Instead, what we get for at least the next phase of the film is something that isn’t too wild, but does introduce us to some interesting characters and provides flashes of dark comedy. This comes mainly from Mary’s reactions to the people she meets – mainly Beatress (Tristan Risk) who is as mad as a box of frogs. However, just as the film looks like it’s about to set off down one particular path, it dramatically veers off-course, changing from a day in the life of a med student with an interesting side-hustle, to what looks set to become a rape-revenge tale.
Only, that isn’t what happens
This chopping and changing becomes a common theme throughout the whole of American Mary. It’s like the film is having an identity crisis, because it is so unclear about what it wants to achieve. There are so many things it could be, and yet after watching it, I couldn’t give you a definitive answer. The narrative never stays headed in the same direction for long enough. As a result, the entire film feels very disjointed, almost like it was patched together from a few different scripts.
As messy as the narrative situation is, however, American Mary does have a few things going for it. It was really interesting that there was such a focus on body modification as this is something I can definitely say I’ve never seen in film before. This is where the more wholesome moments originated, and I would have loved to have seen this side of the film explored more deeply. The characters that we’re introduced to are very colourful too, and perfectly fit the film’s vibe during lighter periods.
In the background of it all is an eclectic soundtrack that is the most amazing musical metaphor for what a mixed bag American Mary truly is. There is everything from classical to hard rock, which pairs well with the film’s mismatched tones. Just like there’s no telling what corner the narrative is going to turn next, its anyone’s guess as to what the next track on the album will be. When it comes to getting music to fit the picture, this really couldn’t have been more bang-on from that perspective.
For a film that doesn’t really know what it wants to be, American Mary is not too bad. It lacks clear objectives and any real depth, but it has quirkiness and messed-up ideas in bucket-loads. It stumbles around in the dark, but I like that it had the balls to try to be something different. Alas, ‘try’ is the best it could do, as it never had the follow-through that I’d hoped it would have. For those of you who will accept a decent effort, this film may do something for you. However, if high art is what you’re after, I suggest you keep on moving.