Today saw the release of American Mary, a revenge thriller-body horror movie from Jen and Sylvia Soska, to Shudder in the United States. The Canadian filmmakers are twin sisters who burst onto the scene with their debut as writer-directors with Dead Hooker in a Trunk in 2009, and followed it up with American Mary four years later, starring scream queen Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps). Since then, they have done See No Evil 2 and Vendetta for WWE Films, as well as a remake of David Cronenberg's Rabid fronted by Smallville's Laura Vandervoort, as well as having worked on a smattering of shorts, comic books, and cameos in other people's films.
American Mary remains, to many of their fans, their most original and fully-realized creation, and it has been years since it was streaming on Netflix. In the interim, it appeared briefly on the ad-supported streamer Tubi, but that platform doesn't have the dedicated horror-fanatic following that drives Shudder.
The Soskas joined ComicBook for a quick, five-question Q&A about the film. Be aware that mild spoilers for the film follow, so if you haven't watched it yet, queue it up on Shudder first.
ComicBook: How did you guys hook up with Katharine Isabelle for American Mary?...And shouldn't it technically be "Canadian Mary?"
Sylvia Soska: We actually submitted the film to her through her agent right away. Our first film was very grindhouse and independent, it was important for us to do things properly on this one. It took a while for the film to get funded, since it was such a wild script and even with a feature film we were still seen as unproven directors. Katharine coming onto the film as the star was one of the most important key creative pieces for the film to be a success. We had written the role for her, so it would have been a bummer if she declined.
Jen Soska: We get that a lot, "why not Canadian Mary?" In one part, the film is a nod to both American Psycho, the film, as well as its director, Mary Harron. We watched Mary Harron defend the artistic merit of the film in the face of a crowd of angry, self proclaimed feminists and were in awe of how she handled herself. She is one of our heroes. The second reason is simply because of the pursuit of the American dream. A Canadian can only get so far. When one is full of ambition, they must truly go to America to rise to the top of their field. Mary was in pursuit of her own American dream.
ComicBook: In hindsight, with a Cronenberg remake on your resume, some of the body horror elements of this movie show up in a little sharper relief. What about that particular subgenre appeals to you?
Sylvia Soska: As young girls, we weren't allowed to watch Cronenberg films, I suppose because of the horror mixed with taboo sexuality. I snuck Shivers as a kid and another time Crash, never even realizing that both films were from the same director. I think films like that which surpass the normal and delve so deeply into the fantastical, it leaves a mark on you and inspires you as an artist. Never at the time would we have dreamed to be the first directors to remake one of his films. As twins, we are used to being judged on a physical level before anything else, sometimes categorized as freaks – I think there was a lot of comfort in those stories that looked beyond the flesh for deeper meaning.
Jen Soska: There is no greater fear than fear for oneself. The fear of something unthinkable and monstrous happening within oneself, an inescapable horror, what could be more terrifying? And the sad truth is we will all have to face our own battles against sickness, injury, and disease. Horror films I find are incredibly therapeutic in the way that they allow us to come face to face with our worst fears but in an environment where we are safe and it's all under our control.
ComicBook: How do you think a movie like this, which on one level is a revenge fantasy for a rape survivor, plays differently in the last five years, when mainstream audiences are so much more aware of not just the harassment that women face, but also less scared to address it in narratives?
Sylvia Soska: It's interesting to think that the film has become more topical today as when we wrote it, it was for a lot of friends and loved ones who were survivors of sexual assault who never got the justice that they deserved. American Mary evolved from the thought of what would you want to do to someone who has done such a reprehensible act and if it was a master surgeon who could have her revenge. There are so many women and men who are survivors of assault and sometimes when you see a film that sees your pain and gives a fantasy of 'wouldn't it be nice?' Honestly, what Mary does to her assaulter is – thanks to the prosthetic geniuses at MastersFX – absolutely horrific. With films like A Promising Young Woman getting critical acclaim, a lot of articles are referencing American Mary which is nice, it's always nice for people to discover your work.
Jen Soska: I'm very happy to see this conversation happening although I am not sure we are seeing the kind of progress we need for meaningful change. We see women being able to share their experiences and survival stories but it seems to focus only on women and paint men only as the abusers and that's simply not the case. For me, it's about power and those who feel they have power over others will always exploit it. I'm concerned this is creating division within the genders.
I feel American Mary has been able to give closure to many women who've survived unspeakable events, but I do hope to make something, as well, for male survivors of abuse.
ComicBook: For people who haven't seen this before, what's your logline, or some of the influences you leaned on when making the movie?
Sylvia Soska: A financially struggling medical student named Mary Mason finds quick cash and notoriety as she delves into the world of body modification which leaves more marks on Mary than her so-called freakish clientele. We love horror movies and we love cosplaying characters, but there aren't that many female villains, it's usually just the final girl or the survivors of the slashers – we wanted to make a scary female horror lead that people could also relate to. Not everyone is going to do underground surgery to pay their bills, but most people can relate to feeling crushed while chasing their dreams.
Jen Soska: We were very inspired by Takashi Miike's Audition and Clive Barker's body of work, along with Canadian icon David Cronenberg. The film follows an international cinematic language – long, lingering, intimate shots. The violence and gore are very tastefully shot. This is the horror movie for people who don't traditionally like horror movies and for those who LOVE horror movies.
ComicBook: Obviously, Shudder is a new marketplace for this movie. It has been available on Tubi for free before, but this is a much more horror-focused service. Do you think that's going to help it connect with a wider audience?0comments
Sylvia Soska: Having American Mary premiere on Shudder in the U.S. is such a treat! It's still a film that, believe it or not, a lot of people still haven't seen. It's so wonderful that it's on a horror streaming service that so many horror fans have, I know we are always checking out new movies on Shudder because they curate such great titles. It's horror nerd pride to be included.
Jen Soska: I'm always excited for people to discover American Mary. Shudder is a phenomenal service and has such a great variety of cinematic gems. I watch it all the time myself. It's been a long time since American Mary was on Netflix, it's so nice to be on Shudder and have so many dedicated horror fans be able to discover the film or be able to watch it anytime they wish.