AMERICAN MARY (Jen and Sylvia Soska). 103 minutes. Screens tonight (Thursday, May 30) at various theatres, then continues at Yonge-Dundas Square. For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNNN
American Mary offers a modern, unsettling twist on the kind of old idea Boris Karloff used to take off from: the good doctor goes bad.
Flat broke and suffering from rape trauma, promising young surgical student Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) ditches school for cash by performing illicit body modifications - think split tongue - in the basement of a gangster-run strip club. The work sickens her at first, but after she uses her skills to exact a gruesome revenge, she develops a taste for it and a fetishy wardrobe.
Clients flock, notably Tristan Risk as a stripper happily remaking herself into a cartoon of femininity, and twin sister directors Jen and Sylvia Soska in a bizarre cameo.
Isabelle delivers a frightening, still performance as an initially idealistic and forthright woman who crumbles into madness. Her icy facade mirrors the arrogance and greed of the surgeons she once admired, then despised.
Moody lighting and camera work suggest the unease behind the dark humour and ample surgical gore, but it's the vivid verbal descriptions that chill to the bone.