Student poverty + stupendous surgical skill = a bad-ass horror movie.
Despite the stereotype that Canadians get – being all nice, friendly and tame – this 2012 film by the Canadian directorial duo, the Soska sisters, show that even those meek northern neighbors of the Americans can also conjure really messed up storylines.
The film revolves around a med school student named Mary, who like many other American university students is struggling to make ends meet. For a lot of other young, attractive female students who are desperate for cash their course of action would be to become strippers, with a lot of media outlets reporting about a growing “Sugar baby” industry.
In our protagonist’s case, she becomes a sociopath surgeon who agrees to do twisted, out-of-this-world procedures that are otherwise banned by mainstream surgeons. Hence, her line of work pays her handsomely because there are a lot of deranged people out there who would do things to their bodies no sane medical professional would agree to do.
Though, Mary did think of becoming a stripper first – this is ironically how she got her start as a black market surgeon. She finds a job ad for a strip club online, goes in for an interview, suddenly the club owner needs her to perform an emergency surgery on some dude he was associated with.
Impressed with her work, the club owner – Billy – pays Mary $5,000 for the one-off job. Even though she had put to rest her financial troubles for the moment, Mary goes home feeling traumatized and sick to her stomach – because let’s face it, there are things even money can’t take your mind off.
Little did our protagonist know that that night would only be the start of her impromptu career as a surgeon. When she met Billy for her interview she left him her resume; yes, even though the ad she found was on a shady website and the venue of the interview was extremely shady itself – she still left behind a paper containing all her details, even her address.
Scumbag Billy somehow thought it was okay to share Mary’s details with other people and with that the helpless med student’s career begins.
Mary then gets contacted by a sketchy lady named Peaches, who happened to be really named Beatress who offers her $12,000 to perform a unique surgery on her friend Ruby Realgirl – yes, that’s her name.
This is when things start to become creepy and I have to admit, I felt a bit uneasy watching the new few minutes – not only because of the type of procedure Ruby wants done (not spoiling it for you) but also because of the appearance of both her and Beatress.
As you can see, Beatress resembles a real life Betty Boop – because she paid thousands on multiple surgeries to do exactly that. Ever heard of Michaela Romanini, Italian socialite who had multiple surgeries done on her, too? Yeah, completely screwed-up results.
Then there’s also the Kardashian family, who thankfully had most work done on body parts outside the face – well, except Bruce Jenner who looked like a wax figure before he completely went ape shit and became Caitlin.
Mary successfully completes the surgery, which makes her a celebrity among Ruby’s clientele of other people having body modification fetishes. Think of the most messed-up cosmetic surgery procedures you can think of, the ones that no mainstream surgeon would dare perform. This movie showcases those people aplenty.
This is a huge part of why this film does a good job of scaring you — the realization that such a demographic of people does exist. The people who are obsessed with looking a certain way, or those who think they are a different species (like a parrot) and thus seek cosmetic surgery to look accordingly.
What’s also scary is how lucrative this business is. Sure, maybe the figures stated in American Mary are inflated — but can you imagine just how much bored, rich people would pay to get something they really want?
With that, it is highly plausible that the same black market in this film exists in real life; and if one does, are there also real life Marys out there?
The Real Talk
Whether cosmetic surgery black markets exist or not, the real world societal problems depicted in American Mary certainly do.
I always wondered why the title was such, then it hit me that the situation our protagonist is in is a reality for many young Americans living in poverty today.
Student poverty is a big problem in the US, so many tertiary students can’t afford to repay their student loans while at the same time paying their regular bills. As mentioned earlier, such a problem gave rise to the “sugar baby” industry where young, attractive women agree to be some rich, old dude’s faux-girlfriend for some dough. Then there’s also a lot of young women turning to prostitution or drug dealing to make ends meet.
As mentioned before, the American cosmetic surgery market is also very lucrative — not just the underground market, but even mainstream cosmetic surgery. Just look at reality shows glorifying cosmetic surgery. Thanks to Hollywood culture, body modification has become normalized — unless you have severe birth defects or mutilation caused by an accident this should not be the case.
You do not need thicker lips, nor do you need a bigger butt nor a procedure that makes you grow horns. Spending your life savings doing those things is truly horrific and you need serious help.
Another issue this movie deals with is the corporate culture that has intruded the healthcare industry. For God’s sake, this is people’s health we’re talking about here. The notion that people dying is “business as usual” or that you can continuously raise the cost of receiving healthcare is a symptom of a loss of one’s humanity.
Seeing this in the movie made me think if I was still watching a slasher flick or a supernatural/demonic one.
Finally, there is also the fatigue being dealt with by professionals – not just in America, but I’m guessing this is true all over the world. In industrial countries, working long hours can be punishing. As such, human beings turn to some very demented ways to vent out their stress.
I won’t give away too much on this topic since doing so might spoil the movie for you, but I will say this: American Mary shows us how cold people can be if their lives are directed towards profit – they lose their humanity and turn to truly wicked deeds. They might appear like regular, hardworking human beings at day but little do we know the more sinister, dark hidden lives they live.
This is the Soska Sisters’ second film after their debut success, “Dead Hooker in a Trunk” and my did it do well in following that debut hit.
American Mary offers a fresh story for horror viewers, perhaps the other known film that is similar to this is the Hostel series. The movie depicts a story of desperation and what people are forced to do in such times. The story also delves on that hidden, sketchy underground world which everyday, ordinary, law-abiding citizens do not even realize exists.
The acting from Katharine Isabelle was solid. Performances such as this really cements her rightful title as a contemporary ‘Scream Queen’. Before watching this, I only knew her from her brief cameo on Supernatural. Glad to know that she has more depth to her acting skills than a mere supporting role in a cameo – she has the acting chops to be a shining lead actor.
With all that said, American Mary still does not have what it takes to be remembered as a “classic”. It is decent, sure – but far from great. While Isabelle delivered on her part, the supporting actors were mediocre – which really impacted my appreciation for this film. At the same time, the ending was very underwhelming. It almost made no sense to end the story on that note.
Still, American Mary is a recommended film for all horror junkies – especially if the gore/slasher subgenre is your forte. I give it a decent B grade.