American Mary

Videodrome

Canada is a scary place. I know that may be hard to believe given its reputation south of the border, but it’s true. At least since the mid-1970s something about the Great White North has inspired its citizens to go forth and make horror films. Good ones at that. Derek Lee and Cliff Prowse’s Afflicted, one of our 13 Best Horror Films of 2013, is only the most recent to hit American theaters. It won’t be alone, either, as Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy continues to unsettle and confuse audiences in its third week. The glut of terrifying entertainment from Canada begs some sort of explanation. Obviously there’s more to the nation than the stereotype of the apologetic, self-effacing peacenik but the Maple Terror phenomenon is now large enough to merit some light-hearted analysis. Let’s start with Margaret Atwood. Back in 1972 she published a book of literary theory called “Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature.” Her idea was that the principle theme of Canadian culture is the battle with the wilderness, the fight to survive the snow and the cold. The protagonists in Canadian fiction are often in “victim positions,” a representation of a communally held fear of nature. Canadian literary criticism has mostly moved on from Atwood’s book, as has the writer herself, but there’s something very useful about this idea. No one is more victimized than the hero of a horror film. Is there something inherently Canadian about the genre, something that has inspired generations of filmmakers to terrorize their characters? Maybe! […]

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Boo. Now turn off the lights, pull your feet in under the covers, and keep reading for a look at our choices for the Best Horror Movies of 2013.

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commentary american mary

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.

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Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Rectify Daniel Holden (Aden Young) is released from prison after serving 19 years on death row for the rape and murder of a teenage girl, but his return home opens up a world of troubled complications for everyone involved. The small, Southern community is divided on the issue of his innocence as the DNA evidence seems at odds with his own confession, and those doubts are just some of the issues he now faces. Character actor Ray McKinnon moves behind the camera here as the show’s creator, and the result is easily one of the year’s finest and most affecting shows. The story shares some thematic similarities to the brilliant Boy A, but it quickly finds its own rhythms and strengths thanks to a smart ensemble filled with heartbreaking performances and characters. It’s not needed, but the show also features some suspense and mystery surrounding Daniel’s possible guilt. It’s a short season at only six episodes, but happily Sundance Channel has ordered an additional ten for season two. [DVD extras: Featurettes]

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There’s something to be said for an incredibly fun movie with some not-so-small problems. The degree of that something most likely differs depending on the viewer, but enough good in a film can often overcome any amount of bad. Theoretically. Luckily for American Mary, that theory holds true as script and editing issues are partially overcome with wit, personality and gleeful audacity. It also helps that the film features two strongly addictive female performances, one lead and one supporting, that anchor the viewers’ attention and sympathies. Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) is a medical student heading towards a career as a surgeon, but her biggest challenge can’t be found in the classroom. It’s in her bank account… her empty bank account. Hoping to earn some quick cash she answers an ad for a strip club, but before she can even audition she’s cajoled into applying her med skills on a man in need of help. (He could also use a new eyeball.) That incident pays far more than stripping ever could, and soon she’s lining up patients looking for surgical help and body modifications that hospitals and the legal system don’t allow. Like taking away a woman’s exterior sexuality, adding devil horns to someone’s head or splitting a guy’s penis down the middle…

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