The crux of “American Mary” depends on the performance by Katharine Isabelle. While the film itself is a unique and very entertaining tale about revenge, madness, and masochism, the lead performance of Mary is most important. Almost any other actor probably would have played the character of Mary Mason completely over the top, but Katharine Isabelle’s turn as a slowly unraveling sadist with revenge on her mind is incredible. Even brilliant.
Ms. Isabelle has always been a wonderful actress, but “American Mary” is where she really manages to show how can she depict madness. She displays it with a slow and meticulous temperament that peels away at her from the minute we see her. Not only is she a practicing surgeon who wants to become a respected doctor, but she also seems to revel in doling out punishment. When her superior challenges her to deliver bad news about their father whose had a heart attack, Mary welcomes the challenge with a smirk and charges in head first. Mary Mason is a sadist among a den of sadists who take their job with a sick sense of humor and almost euphoric madness, that make her a perfect fit for a job as a medically trained surgeon. Mary, however, has found it impossible to pay her medical school bills, and is constantly warned about the dangers of the world by her grandmother, an old world hysteric who dooms Mary with every phone call.
When Mary is invited to a party at her superior’s house, she is drugged and raped and has little options on how to confront her victimizing. After an interview at a local strip club, Mary befriends the club’s owner and enlists his help to begin striking down the men that victimized her, all the while building a profession on underground body modifications. Mary is a girl always on the prowl who has potential to really be hurt among the maniacs she hangs out with. Isabelle plays Mary with immense sexuality and incredible allure, flaunting her body and unique beauty without ever crossing in to exploitative territory. The Soska Sisters approach every element of “American Mary” with enough restraint to disturb the audience, and pull back enough to allow our minds to complete the gruesome imagery.
The Soska Sisters wisely never reach for gratuitous gore, and explore how the body modifications provide Mary an outlet for her sadism, all the while placating her appetite for revenge as she slowly gathers the men that hurt her and end their lives with slow painful deaths. Meanwhile, she gathers affection from club owner Billy, an equally sadistic individual who begins to fall for Mary, as she transforms from victim to a dominant force who finds her calling in mutilating her patients, and her attackers. “American Mary” is an utterly original and engrossing revenge film that explores the underground culture that delights in pain, and how Mary eventually learns to live among them. All the while feeding her own lust for vengeance and justice. With her Bettie Page locks, and large eyes, Katharine Isabelle dominates the screen from the minute we meet her, and delivers a masterful performance.