At first glance the directing duo of Jen and Sylvia Soska might appear to be little more than a shtick. Twins with jet black hair, wonderfully foul mouths and an affection for the bloody wet stuff, they could easily be mistaken for filmmakers more interested in style than substance. But while their feature debut, Dead Hooker In a Trunk, is a brilliant title in search of a worthwhile film, just three short years later they’ve made a dramatic leap in quality with their sophomore effort.
American Mary is part revenge thriller, part black comedy and part body modification training video, and it works hard to tell an original and entertaining story. It’s an odd film destined to stand apart in a genre overrun with ghosts, found footage and masked serial killers, and the fact that it’s anchored by a fantastic female lead performance is just icing on the blood-lined cake.
Keep reading to see what I learned from the commentary track for the Soska sisters’ American Mary.
American Mary (2012)
Commentators: Jen & Sylvia Soska (directors), Katharine Isabelle (actress), Tristan Risk (actress)
1. Mary speaks Hungarian in an early scene solely because the Soska sisters both speak it as well.
2. Risk and Isabelle share a birthday on November 2nd.
3. The character of Billy Barker was named after Clive Barker as a shout-out to Hellraiser, the first genre film they discovered to explore body modification in any real way. The actor, Antonio Cupo, was asked to play the role with an English accent as tribute, but he couldn’t do one to save his life.
4. Risk chose Beatress Johnson’s voice as an homage to Ellen Greene in Little Shop of Horrors.
5. The film was shot in fifteen days.
6. Risk describes acting beneath the facial prosthetic as “very much like being an anime character.” She discovered that it led to her acting more with her body.
7. Dr. “Rapey” Grant telling Mary “don’t fuck up” was a nod to the Soska’s mentor, Eli Roth, whose advice to the sisters often ended with big, bold letters saying just that.
8. Beatress’ nickname for cocaine, jippo, is a tribute to the classic Betty Boop all-purpose health tonic.
9. The Soska’s had heard that Tom Six auditioned actors for the lead role of Human Centipede 2 by having them “rape a chair,” so they applied a similar technique for the extras playing rapists in this film’s party scene. “We had a chair and we had them gang rape the chair. Some left the room, some actually moved slowly towards the door. I just wanted them to be able to do the bukkake thing without being too strange.”
10. One of the Soska’s feels their rape scene is “one of the most beautiful” they’ve ever seen, but her efforts to explain the comment come up short. “Most rape scenes are done to be sexually gratifying to the audience,” she says, before stating that they intentionally focused on Mary’s face to highlight the disgusting nature of the event. I’m not sure what films they’ve been watching, but the vast majority of rape scenes in cinema are not designed to be arousing. Additionally, while their rape sequence is free of nudity it still features a couple glances at her clothed chest as well as a brief turn from the rapist’s POV.
11. Mary’s first act of revenge features shout outs to Takashi Miike‘s Audition in her wardrobe and David Cronenberg‘s Dead Ringers in the use of medical accessories. The instrument in the bad doctor’s mouth is a vaginal spreader of course.
12. Risk was briefly interested in joining the lizard army (having her tongue surgically split), but changed her mind when she discovered people who have it done need to re-learn their ability to speak.
13. The Soskas’ parents mortgaged their house to be this film’s first investors.
14. The reveal of Dr. Grant’s quadruple-amputated body features extensive use of a manually operated puppet prosthetic. It blends pretty damn seamlessly.
Best in Commentary
- A Soska: “Were you wearing underwear before and I asked you to take it off because you could see the tag through it?”
- Sylvia Soska: “Anyone who refers to a rape party as festivities is all right in my book.”
- A Soska: “I don’t date much so I write it into scripts that people have to give me affection.”
- Tristan Risk: “Dude you look like tits on toast in this dress.”
The quartet of filmmakers and actors deliver a lively and fun commentary that’s marred only by Isabelle’s sketchy Skype connection. The four are energetic, especially the twin writer/directors (who are sometimes difficult to tell apart for obvious reasons), and there’s never a dull moment between them. They offer up some honest insights regarding the character of Mary and her culpability in the story’s events as well as multiple entertaining anecdotes and shout outs to their inspirations. Skype issues aside, my only wish would have been to hear more from Risk who proved herself at last year’s Fantastic Fest to be a smart, funny and deliriously sexy personality.