Horror Movies

AMERICAN MARY. Gory and gruesome body horror

It’s hard to talk about a new trend, but for some time now, body horror seems to be making a comeback.

Filip Jalowski

22 January 2024

AMERICAN MARY. Gory and gruesome body horror

In the mainstream, this can be evidenced by the immense popularity of the Human Centipede series. The story of a German surgeon didn’t receive the highest critical or audience acclaim, but it found its way onto the lips of countless people. In 2012, Brandon, the son of David Cronenberg, made his debut with Antiviral and then Possessor. The attempt to return to his father’s world was rather average. However, Antiviral sheds the characteristics of the slasher style seen in films like Hostel (though this trend is still perceptible in Human Centipede), moving towards the traditional traditions of bodily nightmares. Finally, there’s Excision by Richard Bates Jr., a film that enriches horror with a touch of eccentricity and parody (seemingly the best way to revive the subgenre). In the same direction, we find American Mary, directed by the Canadian sister duo, Jen and Sylvia Soska.

The main character of American Mary, Mary Mason, is a promising medical student who, above all, dreams of becoming a surgeon. She spends her free time cutting and stitching up chickens because, as the famous maxim goes, “practice makes perfect.” However, medical studies are not cheap, and Mary’s financial abilities are slowly overwhelmed by debt. The specter of bankruptcy looms over her, threatening to take away her home and the opportunity to continue her education. In desperation, she decides to visit a nightclub where she could dance for a substantial amount of money. The “job interview” is interrupted by an enthusiastic bouncer. After a brief absence, the club owner offers Mary five thousand pounds. She is certain it involves sex, but the situation looks somewhat different. In the basement of the club lies a bloodied man with a split chest. Mary must perform her first serious procedure.

American Mary Katharine Isabelle

The first illegal operation terrifies the young girl, who decides to end her short but intense romance with the nightlife. However, it takes matters into its own hands and opens the door to her indebted apartment. Soon, the student loses interest in her studies and becomes absorbed in the world of shocking body modifications. And when I say “shocking,” I don’t mean elaborate piercings or scarifications. Mary delves much deeper.

The Canadians, with a penchant for getting the camera close to incisions made in the skin through contact with a scalpel, focus on the threads pulled through the skin during stitching. Blood fills the screen during both elaborate surgeries and moments of erotic fantasies (associations with Bates Jr.’s surrealist compositions arise almost automatically). American Mary is a cold and predatory film – it lacks any sympathy for the characters, who at times resemble a piece of clay that the artist sculpts for their own pleasure.

American Mary

On the one hand, it seems that the directors exaggerate and portray the world of modifications in a decidedly too dark light. On the other hand, it’s hard not to notice that exaggeration is the method in this case. Mary’s story is not told with a stone face. Amidst dark club spaces and shabby operating rooms, fumes of black humor pervade, saving the film from becoming a psychologically simple, brutal revenge story. It’s a film very aware of its genre, playing with it at every turn.

American Mary Katharine Isabelle

American Mary is another film (after the aforementioned Excision and the unmentioned All About Evil  and The Loved Once) that proves that horror should be enjoyed in today’s times. It’s not about simple parody or stretching the accumulation of artificial, intertextual winks at the audience. The key to success is awareness of the material being worked with and the distance that allows for the proper balance, creating a film that can simultaneously frighten, intrigue, and bring a smile to the face. Here’s to more productions of this kind.