License article

Shock cinema with a gruesome wit


(USA) 100 minutes

Screening: Saturday November 10 at 8.15pm

Where: Dendy Cinemas

A word to the lily-livered tempted to see the macabre American Mary: maybe think twice about the choc-top and popcorn.

A very strong stomach and a very grim sense of humour are very much required when viewing this slice-of-bizarro-life horror.


Even then, you may find yourself watching large chunks of it through your fingers.

And when I say large chunks, well, let’s just say there are bloody large chunks.

This disturbing, creeping, often gory and occasionally blackly funny exercise in shock cinema explores the dangerous world of underground surgery.

We’re talking body mutilation and genital modification. We’re talking tongue-splitting. We’re talking voluntary amputation. And there’s even a spot of teeth filing for good measure.

Not to mention a liberal application of Rod Stewart songs on the soundtrack.


American Mary tells the goosebump-inducing story of a cash-strapped young medical student (played by Katharine Isabelle) who moonlights as an off-the-books scalpel-pilot performing unconventional operations on unusual people who are unhappy with their conventional appearance.

To say much more about the tragic and twisted characters who come to Mary to have their nipples removed, for example, would spoil the surprises in this at-times shocking film.

Writer-director sisters Jen and Sylvia Soskia show an artful eye for strikingly gruesome visuals and dark, dark humour as they test the boundaries of flesh-abusing horror and tip-toe into the dicey domain of torture porn.

Delicate piano music plays as a scalpel slices into flesh in extreme close-up. Do we laugh or do we look away and wince? Or both?

Likewise with the use of the Rod Stewart classics, First Cut Is The Deepest and Way You Look Tonight.

Incisive, sophisticated wit or oh-so ironic blunt instrument?

Much of the gruesome stuff and violence is implied rather than explicit.

For that I suppose we should be thankful.

But the accompanying sound effects, vivid as they are, and some careful cuts in the edit suite combine to amplify the horror and push every scene of illegal surgery to the extreme limits of excruciation.

Appalling in its grotesquery, this is certainly a fascinating exercise in visceral film-making.

It’s not in the same cynical category of money- and sick-making movies like the Saw franchise, with their cruel violence and gore piled on for shock’s sake.

Rather American Mary gets under your skin in a creepy way. And that’s when the excoriating begins.

But while you can admire the art and craft in its style and composition, and even appreciate the repellent impact, the ultimate point of all the suffering – on the screen and in the audience – proves elusive.