“People wouldn’t want to watch if nothing shocking happens.”
Luckily, this whole movie is just one shocking thing after another.
SPOILER WARNING: This review discusses many plot points and is intended for audiences who have already seen the film. Proceed accordingly.
American Mary seems to be one of those movies that people love or hate. Regardless of which category you fall into, there’s little debate that it’s a controversial film – and one that’s still inspiring discussion years after its 2013 release date.
Since it’s come up so many times lately I thought this might be a good opportunity to review it and leave you all with my thoughts on the piece.
I loved it.
I thought it was a visually striking movie that incorporated a lot of interesting ideas to tell a unique, memorable story. It depicted the bodymod counterculture in an open-minded way. Most of all, it put character into the rape victim seeks revenge tale that us horror enthusiasts have seen rehashed countless times over the last couple decades.
What draws people to that kind of narrative – or what draws me in, at any rate – is that stories of revenge deal with a lot of gray areas. Instinct tells us to sympathize when we’re watching a character get tortured on screen, but that instinct naturally becomes clouded when we first see that victim violating someone else. It makes the audience think and it raises the question how far is too far when seeking revenge? Have they earned this kind of treatment? Who do you root for when you know the story from both sides? Are there really any innocents involved in this story?
One thing that I don’t like about these types of movies, or at least many of the ones I’ve seen, is that there’s usually some type of black magic in the equation. A victim becomes corrupted or possessed after a violent incident and they just happen to target whoever hurt them. What I liked about American Mary is the absence of a supernatural component. This is just the story of a woman who gets pushed too far by someone she thought she could trust.
Mary is a fantastic character that the audience can sympathize with from start to finish – even if her actions can’t exactly be condoned. The movie does a great job at showing you how she gets into this situation. We see her financial troubles and the pressure being put on her to succeed. We get to see how strong, smart, caring and dedicated she is long before we see her broken. It was exceptional storytelling, because part of you is still rooting for her when she starts to do terrible things.
I won’t go so far as to say that the movie was without fault. In fact there were two big things that I took issue with from a feminist standpoint. The first was the rape scene.
I feel like they did a good job dealing with it after the scene was over, but the scene itself lasted far too long in my opinion. They did a good job making the audience uncomfortable (which they should be, given the subject matter) but then they just kept going. The scene is probably only a little over a minute but it feels much, much longer while you’re watching and it probably would have been just as effective to show it in brief flashes coupled with the morning after when it all sinks in.
The other scene I could have done without was Billy’s first fantasy sequence. I understand why it was there – it shows how he feels about Mary while offering symmetry in combination with the second, more violent fantasy sequence later on – but I feel like it would have made Mary all the more admirable as a character if the audience didn’t have to see her so blatantly sexualized after what she’s already been through.
For me though, the good outweighed the bad. I liked that we got to see two very different sides to body modification. We got to see the wonderful, liberating effect that it can have when used as an artistic form of self expression and we got to see the horror of being irrevocably changes against one’s wishes.
And of course, there was the cinematography. It may not have been revolutionary, but there were so many artistic shots in this film that were just as dark and beautiful as the story itself.
These have been my thoughts on American Mary, but please feel free to share your own with me. Let me know if you loved or hated this film, and why.