Artwork by Chris Everhart
American Mary written & directed by Jen & Sylvia Soska
|Chris Everhart's poster
American Mary was an acclaimed festival hit in 2012, garnering praise and awards, before a brief pre-DVD launch UK theatrical tour in early 2013, and a release in USA theaters slated for May 2013. The second feature from the provocative Canadian twins Jen and Sylvia Soska, it tells of ingénue medical student, Mary Mason, who through a mixture of poverty and coincidence, finds herself drawn from the refined elite of med school, through sleazy clip joints, to the underground world of the body modification community, wherein word of her remarkable scalpel skills rapidly spreads. In a parallel plot line, Mary is unwittingly slipped a date-rape drug at a party attended by med school faculty staff and waking to find that she has been raped by at least one of her teachers, wreaks bloody revenge upon the men that she trusted and who have violated her.
The brilliance of this film lies in the Soskas’ ability to have pitched a story from a challenging and at times uncomfortable perspective and then for that pitch to be brought to life by Katherine Isabelle playing Mary. Critics have already labelled the movie a 21st century Frankenstein, and whilst that is only partly true ( Mary does not restore life to the dead) , the extent to which student Mason is drawn from being a clean living moralist to a murderous avenger who has made a bonfire of both social and medical ethics, is arguably the creation of a new personality, if not the new creature. Isabelle’s chilling beauty so often appears incongruous against the scenes of violence and bloody back-street surgery that overwhelm her.
The film shocks on many levels. Mary’s rape, the disturbing presentations of the body-modified characters that appear in the movie, the surgical procedures that Mary performs upon her paying patients, and the vengeance she wreaks upon her sexual predators. Tristan Risk plays Beatress, a woman pursuant above all else of looking like Betty Boop , and we meet her character as she is already gruesomely transformed into Boop and is seeking Mary’s services to assist Ruby, another friend of hers who wishes her breasts and genitalia to be radically altered. Risk’s Beatress is as troubling as it is brilliant, a combination of both outstanding prosthetics and acting. David Lovgren is Dr Grant, Mary’s rapist teacher. It is a mark of the Soskas’ perception that, as in reality, this evil man does not look monstrous or geeky, rather Grant is a youthful handsome and clearly talented doctor, though ultimately a deeply flawed alpha-male. The revenge that Mary subjects him to bears more than a nod to Hannibal Lecter style torture, and whilst the disfiguring effects of Mary’s surgery upon the once-handsome young doctor are deliciously captured by the Soska’s, the twins wisely cut away from actual scenes of surgery. Scalpels and saws are often seen in the movie, though they are rarely seen in action.
It is this sense of controlled understatement that provides a baseline to the movie’s screen printed posted from Fright Fest Originals, a provocative piece of art from Detroit based designer Chris Everhart. A strikingly red image, using only black and grey with the paper’s natural white as additional colour, it suggests horror and torment, without showing any specific act of torture or violence. Inspired by a promotional still, the most striking aspect of the image is that of the surgically masked Mary, with an apron appropriately looped around her neck, but also slim shoulder straps that suggest underneath the apron she is clad in negligee or similar nightwear. Bizarre dress for surgery befitting her bizarrely altered world. Everhart speaks of wanting to have introduced a creepy innocence to Mary. The surgical mask and apron suggesting a trusted concept of a caring professional who naturally garners our respect, yet Mary’s eyes are flecked with deep red, suggesting exhaustion or craziness, or both. Take your pick. Perhaps above all, in one image, the Mary of this poster suggests a surgeon who has taken an alternative direction and lifestyle from the Hippocratic path pursued by her peers. She is a doctor who administers dark, sometimes deadly procedures. A medic whose knife one would succumb to, either because one’s surgical requirements were beyond the pale of acceptable practice, or more chillingly, because the doctor was offering you no choice.
Initial ideas that Everhart considered drew from an interpretation of the USA’s flag, depicted with scalpels and surgical tools. Whilst that approach would have acknowledged the film’s title , geography, and at its most crass interpretation, some aspects of the plot’s darkness too, it would not have hinted at what the Soska’s tale is about. The crazed young woman that he has painted instead is one who is enduring a massive internal struggle as her world crumbles around her. The artist subtly adds to Mary’s crazed existence. Surgical tape seems to be holding an almost crumpled image together whilst paint spattered across the image in much the way as blood may spatter a scene from a severed vessel, hinting at Mary’s violent menace. Look closely at the title lettering and also around the image and spidery surgical sutures are seen everywhere, a suggestion not only of the medical nature of Mary’s world but also of how, like a body-modified individual, the image has been stitched together, to create this alternative perspective on a radically different lifestyle. The lettering of the films title, hand scrawled in upper case, in a lettering that grows in size, again suggests this crazed distorted world, that consumes Mary through the story.
The Soska sister’s are themselves thrilled with Everhart’s interpretation of their work, declaring it “stunning”. The twins have commented that the artwork is unique, and how impressed they are that the work beautifully captures the side of Mary who hides her most vicious and bloody nature behind a perfectly put together disposition A print hangs on their Vancouver production office wall.
A limited edition print-run has so far restricted this contemporary view of a very modern film to collectors and enthusiasts only. Fright Fest Originals have commissioned a piece of understated brilliance that hints at both terrifying slaughter and troubling psychological horror. It’s a striking image that vividly encapsulates the absolute extremes of existence that Mary Mason is forced to live in.
My original review of the movie can be found here.
Fright Fest Originals can be found here.