“American Mary” – Fabulous Horror and My Feminist Guilty Pleasure

Posted: December 10, 2013 in Cover Your Eyes
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
"American Mary" movie poster (photo credit: IMDB)

“American Mary” movie poster (photo credit: IMDB)

Okay, to start with, I’m not going to pretend that I don’t know I haven’t posted in going on four months (or is it five?). I guess I just want to say… you know, life happens sometimes.

Okay, so admittedly, though it’s really unfashionable these days to be so, I am a die-hard feminist. I’m not the kind of feminist that will eat your face when you call someone a “#ussy.” I’m the type of feminist that, if you call someone a “#ussy,” I will then regale you with all the amazing things of which my #ussy is capable. You know. Just to emphasize how very stupid your comment is. So that’s the kind of feminist I am.

It’s really, really hard to be a feminist AND a horror fan. Most of the movies I love, I love despite the eye-roll-worthy female archetypes and blatant misogyny that leaves me frothing at the mouth. There are a number of movies I might love if I were not a feminist. But, in general, I manage to draw a line. When I enter the world of horror, I leave the feminist on the doorstep. If she throws herself through the window to get in and smashes her face through the TV screen halfway through a movie… well, at that point, it’s the movie’s fault.

That being said, there are a few movies that I REALLY REALLY love because I perceive some fundamental feminist principle at work, or being explored, or even being exploited but still drawing an audience’s attention to it. My feminist friends rarely agree with me, when I make these claims of having found the newest “feminist horror movie,” but whatever. Who asked them? Anyway, one of the movies I adore for feminist purposes is “American Mary (2012).”

Okay, so even if I wasn’t a feminist, I would have really enjoyed this movie. Here’s why:

  • First,  fantastically weird characters. Hats off to Beatrice and Ruby Real Girl, because they FREAK me out! But also, the character development for the main character, Mary Mason, is very interesting. Some might say her descent is unbelievable, but I for one have experienced firsthand the power of depersonalization and all it can make a person do. The jaded love interest is filthy and fabulous, the kind of guy you want to take a bleach bath after you do him, but damned if you don’t do him anyway. I have one character complaint that I can’t share because it’s a spoiler, but you’ll understand when you see the ending.
  • Second, Crazy cool and bizarre concept–extreme body mod stuff is such a fascinating subculture to me. I love this setting as character element when it works to good effect, and it definitely did here, lending a dark, grimy backdrop to the entire picture.
  • Third, solid storyline despite the fact that the movie’s value rests entirely on the extreme body mod concept (without it, it would be just another rape revenge movie, although at least a satisfying one). I have to complain a little here and say the ending (specifically, the identity of the antagonist) came too far out of left field, in my opinion. It was believable, since the writers took care in their writing. But it seemed so random to me. At the same time, when I looked really closely, I could see a lesson there the writers might be trying to teach about how the general culture perceives extreme body mod. You decide whether or not it works and leave me a comment.

Favorite moment in the film: Mary walks into her apartment after performing her first “surgery” and promptly throws up all over the place. Writers who honor actual human weakness in horror ROCK!

Favorite line: It’s a toss-up this time. Katharine Isabelle‘s delivery of the simple line, “I need help,” about halfway through the movie, makes me cringe. And the secondary character’s response is priceless! Then there’s this one– “Oh, What’s that? I couldn’t here you cuz your mouth is sewn shut,” which she delivers with the most eeeeev-il giggle ever uttered. Great stuff.

Katharine Isabelle - Favourite People List pre...

Katharine Isabelle – Favourite People List premiere at 1181 on Davie Street – read more at http://www.urbanmixer.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, finally, why did I, as a feminist, like this movie? Mary is a powerful character. She’s powerful throughout the entire movie, but for one critical scene. Even when she is overcome, she doesn’t stay down for long. Her knowledge, her education, her personality, and her drive keeps her on top, even if her knees are shaking. Even at the end, when things fall apart, Mary sews the last stitch. Because she is that effing awesome. Despite the damage she suffers, which leads her to become a strange and different woman, she still has moments where we remember she’s human. I don’t know if I would have liked this aspect as much if it were not for the actress who played Mary. Somehow, she managed to communicate the cold vulnerability that defined the character for what she is. If Katharine had not acted her ass off, this movie wouldn’t have had the same impact.

To complete why I respect this film from a feminist perspective, a word about the sex assault scene–this scene was extremely well done. That might have something to do with the fact that “American Mary” was written and directed by two women, Jen and Sylvia Soska, but not necessarily. Anyone can film an effective rape scene, if that director understands what makes the thing so horrific–when he or she makes the scene about power and not sex. The remake of “Last House on the Left” is a good example, and directed by a man. The Soska’s also accomplished this, filming the scene in a way that shows in detail what it looks and sounds like to be as powerless as Mary. In fact, the dominant image of the scene is hands and the dominant sound is breathing. Also, the sex assault is relevant to the plot and storyline. So often, horror writers throw a sex assault scene into their movies just to shake things up (I’m looking at you, “Hills Have Eyes…”). That’s a horrible reason for such a strong and visceral image.

I can see a lot of people might say this movie is bad. It’s extremely violent, and in a way that is even more alien to people than the usual mindless violence that draws us little bugs to the horror lamp. The storyline wiggles in places. The theme seems to shift around a little, like the writers were trying to teach too many lessons at once.

But even with all that, I still say you need to give “American Mary” a chance. It’s my guilty pleasure for a number of reasons–I’ll eat my words if you don’t drop your jaw at least once during this film.

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Comments
  1. […] “American Mary” – Fabulous Horror and My Feminist Guilty Pleasure (morselsformonsters.wordpress.com) […]

  2. Sigourney Weaver was pretty badass in Aliens, but it does get old when the monster or badguy goes after the pretty girl and she just screams and waits for him to get her. There’s a scene toward the end of Cloud Atlas when Hugo Weaving’s badguy character shoots a lady’s dog in his quest to get Halle Berry. He catches up with Berry and her buddy, and just before he shoots them, the lady with the dog whacks him with a monkey wrench. That was good stuff, too. Not really horror. But an example of what you can do.

    • themadmack says:

      I love that you mentioned “Aliens,” because I consider that franchise to be the prototype for feminist horror 😉 Great call! I have not yet seen Cloud Atlas, but it is now on my list!

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