Mary Mason is lured into a world of freakish surgeries for easy money.
My love affair with American Mary began the day it appeared on my “suggested” Netflix feed, my only point of reference being Katherine Isabelle – the menstruating teenage werewolf from Ginger Snaps. Obviously, I gave it a go.
I hate torture-based horror. I don’t jive with needle gags, slicing open of achillles tendons, scalpel cuts – you know the stuff. I had no idea who The Soska Sisters were, and a general fear of director teams that go by odd monikers.
As it turns out, they were the auteurs of one of the most original and brilliant pieces of horror filmmaking I’ve seen in the last decade. And richly, fabulously feminist, too. I was, and am (with five viewings under my belt), entranced by its blood, guts, gore, and elegant wave of the scalpel. It hasn’t changed my mind about the torture sub-genre (and for many fans, this is a light entry), but it has shown me what the best of it is capable of.
The movie is brutal and bloody, but balanced with a kindness toward its characters (at least, those it deems deserving of kindness) that I haven’t seen before. Mary is not an altogether “together” girl – one might say, she’s the bad guy. But she is also the final girl, the hero, the victim, and a self-employed chick trying to get by. She is all of us. Her story is universal. Except maybe for her fantastic way with medical equipment.
Anyone can write horror. But women are often only victim to it, not in charge of it. Mary’s story isn’t just about a surgical student coming to terms with, and becoming the boss of, her own reality – it’s the story of its own creators. I have to believe, as a film writer and horror fan, that what The Soska Sisters are saying in American Mary is that enough is enough. Women deserve their place in filmmaking, in the workplace, in life. And if they won’t give it to us, who’s to say we can’t stand up, put on the black leather apron, and do it ourselves?
Even if you don’t love horror, put on your blood-and-guts blinders for 90 minutes and give this one a shot. Its confrontational attitude and body positive atmosphere will surely give you a bunch of feminist feels.
I love horror films, but American Mary doesn’t seem like one to me. The film seems more like a dark drama with gore. The film’s protagonist, Mary Marson, is a medical student who studies her craft day and night. Although she is dedicated, there is an air of vulnerability present – especially when she is around her Professor.
Mary’s determination is a driving force of the film and something I love about her. When her debt is rising, she takes things into her own hands. After falling into underground surgeries, she starts her own body modification business.
Even when Mary is brutally attacked, she doesn’t play the victim. Instead, she proves to her Professor that she is an excellent surgeon and gets her revenge all at the same time. The best example of her determination comes at the end of the movie, when she tries to sew her wound before bleeding out.
I believe that filmmakers in this genre could learn something from The Soska Sisters and American Mary. The film is a brilliant example of how women don’t just have to be the victims or there for the male gaze.
However, I’d like to see less sexual assault please.
As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I usually repudiate any film or television programme that shows a rape scene. Nine times out of ten, it isn’t pertinent to the plot and is very triggering to those who have experienced similar traumas. However, for American Mary, it is the turning point of the film that leads us into the world of revenge against her assailant.
You would think it would be difficult to sport the term “feminist” when the genre of the film is horror and sexual deviancy. Usually we rally so hard against the glorification of violence and the exploitation of women. But American Mary flips the script from the usual horror trope of helpless girl to strong, intelligent, and powerful woman.
Shortly after beginning her residency at a hospital with seemingly reputable and integrated medical professionals, she is invited to a “surgeon party”. Surgeon, being a predominately male profession, she finds herself in a high rise surrounded by established male doctors and presumed sex workers. You instantly get a gut feeling of intuition that Mary is not safe and these surgeons are not as clean cut as they appear to be. After her drink is drugged by another doctor, her main instructor then proceeds to take advantage of Mary and films the assault.
This is where the plot unfolds. Mary returns to the club and takes revenge on her rapist by performing every obscure body modification she can scheme. Including genital mutilation, a metaphorical power switch against the atrocities that have been done unto her and other unsuspecting women.
Past this point though, the movie begins to get muddled. There is no furthering of the plot by having her work in a rundown strip club, she seems to become obsessed with torture and the body modification of consenting and paying clients. Mary’s personality seems to go from 1 to 100. Obviously this is a horror film and what fun would a horror film be without the twisted gore we have become all too accustomed to? Although going from completely well adjusted to a state of psychosis is not completely unheard of, I felt it took away the power Mary once held and turned it into her life becoming out of control.
Although not stated, she is presented in a way that seems as though, psychologically, she has developed intermittent explosive disorder. This leads to stigmas about mental health issues needing to be punished. As it seems the more aggressive she gets, the more she has to pay for her actions presenting themselves outside of the body mod and torture business she has become a celebrity in. She has left her promising life as a potential surgeon and although done in a metaphorical and extreme manner, the rape that was inflicted upon her has made her lose her sense of self, health, and happiness.
– Taylor Irezumi (@wifidevil)