Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012: American Mary

You know that feeling when you see a movie where everything you want to happen, happens? Where you sit up and say to yourself, 'I wish I'd made this movie'?  This, for me, is American Mary, the sophomore effort from identical twin Canadian horror prodigies The Twisted Twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska of Dead Hooker In A Trunk fame. It's like the stars aligned and made an absolutely gorgeous film that's funny, affecting, and which pushes all the right horror buttons while never seeming exploitative, despite dealing with some pretty heavy shit like rape, voluntary amputation, genital modification, and about a hundred other seemingly disparate ideas that all inexplicably fit together.

At the centre of this is the always-stunning Katharine Isabelle, whose performance in the title role is riveting, no matter what she's given to do (and in Mary, that's a lot).  She's at once dryly witty, deeply vulnerable, and highly adept at her craft. Her transformation as a character from 'starving student' Mary Mason to 'Bloody Mary', one of the best horror creations (and certainly up there with May as one of the most terrifying females in the genre) never feels forced or artificial.  

The camerawork here is tremendously skillful, especially for a second feature, and every scene is meticulously-composed with just the right use of shadow and an intense black-and-red colour palette — all enhanced with a brilliant score by Peter Allen. There is a dance going on here: scenes that should be beautiful are foreboding, and horrifying surgery and torture scenes have a delicateness to them that helps to balance what could easily be another Saw retread in less-capable hands. As the Soskas said of their intent in the Q&A after the film, they have certainly crafted "a horror film you don't want to look away from".  To be fair, though, there is some extreme stuff in here even if it's not always very explicit. Some of the very ideas of these extreme body modifications are downright stomach-turning to this reviewer, but to each his/her own I guess.

You almost want to hate the Twins for the unfair amount of talent and knowledge they put on display here, but it's pretty much impossible when they do things like run up and down the line outside the theatre (in the pouring rain, no less) and thank everyone personally for coming to their screening. American Mary shows more growth as filmmakers than most anyone else I've seen in this or any other genre.


Stay tuned all week for more reviews from the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. You can find them all here.

This review was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer.  His writing has appeared on, the CBC Street Level Blog,, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.

Photo: Katharine Isabelle in American Mary, which is a film you should see.


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