American Mary - Feminist Body Horror from Canada

American Mary (2012) – Breaking the Glass Ceiling of the Underground


American Mary (2012) offers a unique and thought-provoking perspective on societal norms, gender dynamics, and the autonomy of women’s bodies. This film, directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska, delves into the journey of a talented medical student named Mary Mason as she navigates a world dominated by male influences and misogynistic expectations.

Hailing from Canada, the Soska sisters make yet another strong offering among a rich legacy of Canadian body horror films.

American Mary (2012) - Mary struggles through medical school whole debt collectors hound her
Mary struggles through medical school whole debt collectors hound her

American Mary Plot

Mary Mason (played by Katharine Isabelle), a talented but struggling medical student, finds herself disillusioned with the pursuit of a medical degree and its demands. Burdened by financial difficulties, Mary turns to unconventional opportunities to make ends meet. What’s more, the patriarchy that dominates her field not only tries to keep her down professionally, but also takes her humanity by drugging her and raping her at a party.

Desperate for money, Mary decides to try her hand at underground body modification surgeries, performing extreme alterations on clients who are seeking to transform their bodies in unique and unconventional ways. Through a chance encounter, she becomes entangled with a mysterious and enigmatic subculture that seeks out her expertise in surgical modifications.

As Mary delves deeper into this world, her transformation from a medical student to an underground surgeon begins to alter not only her career trajectory but also her identity. She becomes a figure of empowerment within this underground community, wielding her surgical skills as a form of control and rebellion against societal norms.

As Mary becomes increasingly immersed in the world of body modification, her actions take a dark and disturbing turn. The film explores the blurred lines between empowerment and obsession, as Mary’s journey becomes more morally ambiguous and unsettling.

American Mary (2012) - Mary's rapist finds justice as Mary finds herself
Mary’s rapist finds himself at the receiving end of justice as Mary finds herself

Feminist Themes / Ambiguous Conclusions

What makes American Mary particularly intriguing from a feminist horror standpoint is its exploration of Mary’s transformation from a struggling student into a confident and empowered woman who seizes control of her own destiny. Throughout the film, Mary rejects traditional roles and societal pressures. Instead, she embraces her skills as a surgeon and makes bold choices that lead her down a path of moral ambiguity.

The film challenges the viewer to consider the power dynamics at play in medicine and other professional fields, where women’s expertise is often dismissed or undermined. Mary’s journey highlights the importance of her agency and she asserts this by supporting other’s rights to make decisions about one’s own body, even if those decisions look destructive from the perspective of societal norms. This resonates deeply with recent tests against feminist themes of bodily autonomy and self-determination.

While the struggle for women to wholly own her own body goes back long before this films release in 2012, what we didn’t know at the time of its release is that the struggle was only a decade away from getting much more difficult.

American Mary raises questions about the objectification and exploitation of women’s bodies, both in the medical field and in society at large. By using horror as a genre, the film emphasizes the gruesome consequences of such objectification, pushing the audience to deal with uncomfortable truths about the dehumanization that can occur when women’s bodies are treated as commodities.

In the end, American Mary challenges us to reflect on how society perceives and treats women who defy assigned social roles and assert their autonomy. It emphasizes the strength and resilience of women, particularly in the face of adversity and discrimination, but also subtly calls out the epic toll that it can also take.

American Mary (2012) - The Soska sisters wait in line for some of Mary's handiwork
The Soska sisters wait in line for some of Mary’s handiwork

Folding Back on Itself (Spoilers)

Considering the considerable effort that the Soska sisters put into empowering Mary and exemplifying her domination over man, the ending curiously rolls back the progress with an interesting turn of events.

The film introduces two female characters, Ruby and Betty, that provide a metaphor for everything that Mary has become. Betty desires to transform herself into Beatrice Boop. Ruby wants Mary to help fashion her into doll She wants this so much that she asks Mary to sew her vulva closed in order to obfuscate her genitalia.

The twist comes in when Ruby’s husband flies off the handle in a fit of rage after finding out what Mary did to his wife. He tracks down and brutally beats Beatrice to death in order to find the location of the butcher that defiled his wife. Ultimately, the film builds into deadly clash between this man and Mary.

After all of the self-actualization that these three women achieve, a toxic and violent male force lays it all to waste because they changed the woman that he objectifies in ways that he can’t toeralte. All that Mary achieves gets destroyed by yet another sexually violent man. Thought provoking? Maybe?


American Mary is a visceral film dive headlong into themes that many films avoid. It serves as a treatise on empowerment, and the twisted allure of pushing the limits of the human body. The Soska sisters’ direction creates an unsettling atmosphere that complements the film’s exploration of these complex and challenging concepts.

Overall, the Soska’s create a compelling and entertaining film. While the ending is thought provoking, it’s also mostly dissatisfying; not because Mary didn’t get what she ultimately deserved, but that it could have occurred with a bit more panache. While Mary is clearly despicable by the end her arc, Katherine Isabelle’s role makes for a strong female anti-hero, especially among a cast of even slimier men.

While American Mary many not delight all horror fans, it certainly offers a change of pace and is worth a watch.

American Mary (2012) - Breaking the Glass Ceiling of the Underground -
american mary finding confidence mary takes control of her situation

Director: Jen and Sylvia Soska

Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:33

Editor's Rating:

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