‘Everything is forgivable, if you do a good job.’ but this doesn’t apply to Mary Mason.
American Mary is my first watch by the Soska twins, and while it did leave me with mixed feelings, those feelings did not feature a moment of boredom.
I do not like to start my reviews on a negative, but I would be lying if I didn’t note that the refreshing lack of boredom was also unfortunately accompanied by a few too many moments of disappointment. The daftest moment being that when Mary’s beloved Nana passes away, the first thing she does is delete her contact from her phone. Mary’s Nana passing away provided absolutely nothing additional to the plot, and the writing of this moment (I’m sorry Soska twins) was nothing less than stupid, unnecessary and unrealistic. This is unfortunately how I felt about a lot of the script, and American Mary’s rather rushed ending.
Similarly, and as many other reviews have already noted before me, I am incredibly troubled by the rape-revenge narrative prevalent in female-led horror films. I am additionally troubled by the unnecessary sexualisation of females in horror – however, this did not stop my queer gore whore self from relishing in Katharine Isabelle pouring blood all over herself as she dances, and it also did not stop me from taking some form of pleasure in seeing her get her revenge. Yet, seeing Mary clad in tight PVC as she tortures her r*pist still troubles me – I feel as though the Soska twins almost definitely intended for Mary’s sexualisation to be in fact a form of her power; she is very much in control of her own body after her attack. This still doesn’t stop the horrific and unnecessarily long r*pe scene from troubling myself and other viewers. The video footage taken of Mary during her attack could’ve sufficed. While it is important for films to be graphic and feature violence to really burn messages into audiences’ minds, the r*pe scene of American Mary (and many other female-fronted horror, both classic and contemporary) seemed like yet another scene almost made for perverted male-viewing pleasure. For those of you have seen the likes of The Last House of the Left, or I Spit on Your Grave… you will know what I mean – and this greatly disappoints me from the female director-writer duo.
What I also found troubling – but fun – about American Mary, is how we are also led to genuinely be a fan of all the characters here (bar Mary’s r*pists). Lance, Beatrice, Ruby, and even Billy, all seemed to have some sort of weird sympathetic space in my heart by the end of the film – even though the likes of Lance and Billy maybe shouldn’t have done. However, when a man offers you ‘titties and shrimp’ following your brutal murder of your r*pist and a cop… it’s hard to not love him. With that being said, this film had a lot to offer besides its main plot. That being said though, I cannot fail to mention the scene in which Mary walks in on Billy receiving head from a ‘new girl’. Mary had shown no interest in Billy up until this point – and maybe she suddenly desired him after learning he had killed Dr. Walsh for her (however, it is not explicitly stated that Mary knows this and only an assumption) – but it still does not make sense to be in a film that begins with discussions of female empowerment. Mary’s anger should’ve been directed at Billy, for being just another sleazebag if anything, rather than Billy being turned into a ‘victim of unrequited love’ that we are almost asked to sympathise with.
While my list of issues with American Mary seems rather daunting, I did enjoy the film. Without the unnecessary rape scene, failed messages of female empowerment, and poor dialogue, this film could have easily exceeded my current opinion of it, but I will never be able to award a film that features such graphic r*pe scenes but yearns to scream ‘female empowerment’ more than 3 stars (out of 5). The premise of the film is incredibly strong, but I feel the Soska twins could’ve gone in a different direction that did not essentially glorify Mary’s brutal attack. The film in itself was still crafted wonderfully – the Soska twins employed a creative mixture of shots, some beautiful uses of light and music, and did a very good job of showing rather than telling. Through the character of Ruby Realgirl, and Mary’s eventual career in body-modification, we are provided with a lot of ideas regarding female empowerment, beauty-standards, objectification and sexualisation of women that I found to be quite powerful and quite important, but unfortunately, we simply did not see enough of Ruby (or even Beatrice, really) for this to overpower the issues I have with the film.
The ending was incredibly unexpected, but without any spoilers, I couldn’t have seen Mary ending up in any other way once we got to the final half an hour of this film. It did feel a little disappointing overall, but realistically, Mary was soon no longer a desperate student, and became what we can only describe as the ‘monstrous feminine’. Overall, the Soska twins have provided an entertaining film that is aesthetically pleasing to view and constantly keeps you guessing. The dark humour and unique side-characters really brought this film together for me and made me enjoy it overall, but sadly, I can’t help but with the Soska twins could’ve created something a lot more powerful here.