American Mary (2012, dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska) follows a medical student named Mary Mason (played by Katharine Isabelle) with more brains than cash who can’t seem to catch a break from the people surrounding her. In a last ditch effort to make some extra dough, Mary is interviewed by a strip club manager named Billy (played by Antonio Cupo). However, this interview quickly turns into Mary using her medical expertise on one of Billy’s men who has been severely injured. As Mary puts this night behind her and attempts returning to medical school, a series of tragic events while at a party pushes Mary back into the underground market where she becomes infamous for controversial and taboo cosmetic surgeries.
I could sit here and tell you how well-written this film is and how structurally sound or unique the plot is. However, sometimes I accidentally end up reviewing “good” films several weeks in a row and feel like a broken record. What I believe is more beneficial to focus on is an aspect of this film that speaks volumes for how this isn’t a typical horror film with a revenge plot – this is a movie by girls, for girls. Within the first few minutes of American Mary it’s clear that this was a woman led film by the way some of the female characters are presented – specifically Ruby and Beatress (played by Paula Lindberg and Tristan Risk). Beatress, though a stripper, is often seen wearing modest 1950s attire to suit her sweet Betty Boop persona. Not only this, but Beatress is a “girl’s girl,” or, a woman who gives unconditional support towards other women. The first time Beatress meets Mary she treats her as if she’s known her her entire life. Likewise, Beatress’s purpose for ever reaching out to Mary was to help her friend Ruby. In this interaction, Beatress expresses how she loves Ruby and doesn’t wish to see her suffer any longer – then proceeds to pay $12,000 cash to aid in her friend’s happiness.
Ruby, though appearing to be a stereotypical bimbo or porn star, is actually a fashion designer whose aversion to sex and being a sexual object is so strong she asks Mary to sew her shut and make her smooth like a doll. Both women, despite their careers and appearances, end up showing much less skin, or nudity, throughout the film than Mary – a surgeon. The diverseness and depth of the female characters is incredibly pleasant and refreshing to see in a horror film. Ruby especially could have an entire essay written about her. I find myself obsessed with the “genderless doll” mindset she has despite seeming like the exact opposite. Also, since we’re discussing how well made the female characters are I find it important to note that yes, American Mary passes the Bechdel Test! There are several conversations taking place between women which have nothing to do with men, rather themselves and how they see themselves in the world.
Likewise, the male protagonists – Billy and Lance – support and respect Mary to the point of kidnapping those who have wronged her. Lance (played by Twan Holliday) is one of my favorite characters though he’s hardly given any screen time and it’s mostly because of a monologue he delivers to Mary after she expresses feeling bad for her victims. In this dialog, Lance tells Mary how a few years ago his mother was the victim of a home robbery and was left beaten and severely injured. He ends stating, “Don’t ever devalue what you do, Mary. You make sure they deserve it, and don’t waste a minute of your time thinking about them when you’re done.” This line sent shivers down my body when I heard it – I don’t know how to explain the way I feel about this line other than perfection. Although Billy has a crush on Mary and there are frequent fantasy sequences, Billy also never acts on his desires. Nor does he have a mindset that he owns her, or that he deserves to have her. Billy, though he doesn’t treat every woman equally, is able to maintain a professional relationship with Mary even as he asks her to run off with him.
Despite the plot being well-written and the film itself being one of my new favorites since reviewing Aimy in a Cage, there are also aspects of it that I wish could have been on par with the rest of the film. Primarily, the film’s conclusion. As the falling actions begin taking place in the narrative I became excited for a big finale; one last scene of torture before the credits roll. The film up until this point felt like a four course meal smothered in butter and bacon grease, and I was ready for the slice of dessert to be the height of my face. However, what was brought to the table instead was a tall glass of watery disappointment and missed opportunities.
What I’m about to discuss is a spoiler for the film’s ending. If you would like to watch American Mary blind without spoilers I recommend skipping these final paragraphs and continuing on to my final thoughts and scoring below.
Earlier in the film it’s established that Ruby has a husband and several boyfriends – to which my immediate reaction was, “I wonder if Ruby’s husband is going to be angry about her surgery.” He did, in fact, end up becoming violently angry about it because Ruby was no longer a sexual object. In an attempt to figure out who did this to Ruby the husband beats and seemingly tortures Beatress until she gives him Mary’s name. Beatress, hardly able to speak, calls Mary to warn her that Ruby’s husband is after her and apologizes profusely for giving up the information. Up until this point Mary has been a brutal badass against anyone who gets in her way, so I was expecting her to be able to take the husband down no problem as well as get revenge for what he did to Beatress and possibly Ruby – it’s never revealed if the husband took anger out on Ruby, it’s only an assumption. Instead, the husband is easily able to defeat Mary by stabbing her in the stomach. While she crawls to her surgery room to stitch herself up, the film ends up letting her die. In my opinion, this conclusion was not only incredibly weak and cheap, but it’s completely dismissive of the person Mary Mason has been throughout the film. I don’t understand how after everything Mary goes through within the film that the conclusion is Mary dying from a single, little stab wound. Even after she’s wounded and stitching herself up I was expecting the film to continue. I was expecting her to wobble to her feet, walk over to the husband, and make him suffer. But no, they just let her die. I would have rather the film ended on a cliffhanger with no sequel than to see Mary die in such a pathetic manner. I don’t even need to see the husband being tormented to feel satisfied with the conclusion – it could have been as simple as Mary standing over his body while he’s injured and choking on his own blood, and then credits. I would have preferred that over what the audience received.
Unfortunately, for some reason, there is a pattern for female slashers within horror to die by the end of the story. And, unlike their male counterparts, they don’t get to come back time and time again. We see it in Carrie, Jennifer’s Body, and Ginger Snaps just to name a few examples and it’s very disheartening to me. There’s often no reason at all for these amazing characters to die while other slashers such as Michael Myers either get constantly resurrected or have the ability for the film to end on a cliffhanger. Every time I get introduced to a female slasher I often fall in love with their character and I want to see more of them – but I can’t because they always concretely die at the end. Sometimes, my frustration over this issue gets to me so hard I can’t help but scream into a couch pillow. There are girls who need more Mary Mason, more Jennifer Check, and more Carrie White within horror because they resonate with the narratives and watching a woman on screen act out in a manner that many women wish they could is incredibly cathartic.
American Mary – A Tier
Overall, I will never forget American Mary. If I had watched this movie just a few years earlier I definitely would have used it as my thesis in relation to Julia Kristeva’s abjection theory. I highly recommend it for other women who enjoy the slasher subgenre of horror and enjoy indulging in a good revenge story. Overtime, I can see myself returning to this film and deciding to declare it S Tier – the highest possible score on my scale.
American Mary is now available to streaming through Tubi and rental through Amazon Prime Video