Mary Mason has built a diverse resume: medical student, illegal underground surgeon, and dark avenging angel. Slightly detached and desperate for money to pay for school, Mary auditions for a job at the local strip club. The manager Billy seems smitten. Later he even fantasizes about Mary performing an erotically charged dance—one of several instances of Mary’s objectification by men foreshadowing the tragic nature of her story.
Mary’s interview at the club is interrupted and she is whisked down to the club’s basement by Billy, who offers her $5,000 to perform emergency surgery on a horribly injured man, no questions asked. Nervous but tempted by cold hard cash, Mary accepts the offer and immediately puts her medical training to work. Not long after, another stripper at the club hires Mary for her surgical services. Soon enough, Mary is the in-demand surgeon for people seeking risky and unusual body modifications.
Even as Mary’s fortunes appear to be looking up, the damning specter of the university looms large. Finally feeling less financially burdened by school, Mary is invited to a swanky party hosted by a medical professor, ostensibly for networking purposes. In reality though, she has been lured there to be drugged and raped by one of her professors, who also films her degradation.
The horrific assault is Mary’s turning point, further detaching her from a world that continually uses and abuses her. After exacting brutal revenge on her rapist, Mary the med student is gone. Only Bloody Mary remains.
Eventually, a police detective comes sniffing around and he’s pretty sure Mary knows more about her professor’s disappearance than she’s admitting. Her life continues to unravel, ultimately leading to a tragic end. At one point, Mary asks Billy at the club, “Do you think I’m crazy?” Mary’s deteriorating mental health seems apparent by that point, but if she is indeed crazy, it’s likely because the patriarchy has driven her to it.
TEN YEARS AGO, Canadian twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska wrote and directed the modern horror classic American Mary. Combining the body horror genre with the rape-revenge genre, the film is a complex exploration of issues that always seems to be in the news: males claiming ownership over female bodies, and women’s fights to reclaim them. Fellow Canadian, the criminally underrated Katharine Isabelle, turns in a star-making performance as Mary: sexy, vulnerable, and unnerving, Isabelle is a force of nature. The Soskas were wise to fix their lens on Isabelle’s face during and immediately after Mary’s rape: without any dialogue, Isabelle expresses Mary’s trauma and the resultant hardening of her emotions to keep from falling apart. Thanks to the Soska Sisters and Isabelle’s brilliance, American Mary feels timeless ten years on—after all, the trauma and tragedy of Mary’s life is the story of women everywhere, then, now, and seemingly forever.