onsdag 14 januari 2015

American Mary (2012): Rape and more Body Horror

I was not originally planning to discuss body horror further, at least not this soon after my review of Contracted (Eric England, 2013). Netflix had other plans. While looking for suggestions, I found another body horror film, also dealing with rape and the destructive and corrupting consequences of rape, but in a different way. For this review, I will discuss the plot in greater detail, so you may want to watch the film before reading any further.

American Mary (Jane Soska & Sylvia Soska, 2012) is about Mary (Katharine Isabelle), a medical student whose financial troubles and excellent surgical skills result in her doing extreme body modification procedures. One notable client is Ruby (Paula Lindberg), a woman who wants to become a doll and asks Mary to remove her nipples and external genitalia. After she is drugged and raped by one of her teachers (David Lovgren), Mary drops out of medical school and starts doing body modifications full time. She also kidnaps her rapist and uses him "for practice", horribly disfiguring him. Her luxurious new life is threatened when an agent starts investigating his disappearance.

While Contracted attemps to show how rape affects the everyday life of the victim, American Mary focuses on how the victim deals with the consequences. When Mary is raped, she loses control over her body and she attempts to regain control by punishing her rapist and stripping him of control by stripping him of various body parts. She also helps others keep control over their bodies by modifying them according to their requests. When Mary asks Ruby (a pre-rape client) why she would want the requested procedure, she explains that dolls cannot be sexually objectified because they lack nipples and genitalia. Ruby wants to make her body her own, and not someone else's object. This feminist line of thought is continued later in the film when Ruby's husband beats her and wants revenge on Mary for taking away his sexual object.

The rape also changes Mary's moral outlook. She enjoys the sadistic punishment she continually inflicts on her rapist, which makes her increasingly less sympathetic to the audience. Even though we know that he is a serial rapist and has witnessed his brutal rape of Mary, the punishment cannot be justified because it is not redemtive for him, rather corruptive for her. Mary becomes a rapist by taking away his control over his body. Let's compare her revenge rape to that of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev, 2009). Lisbeth punishes her legal guardian Bjurman (Peter Andersson) for raping her by tattooing "I am a sadist pig and a rapist" on his chest and anally raping him with a dildo. She also blackmails him with a recording of her rape and demands that he leaves her alone. Lisbeth punishes by raping him back, branding him as a rapist to protect other women and releasing herself from his power, enabling her to move on with her life. Mary, on the other hand, does not move on and keeps her rapist as a pet for her to occasionally torture. Lisbeth allows Bjurman to live, with restrictions suitable for a violent sex offender, and checks up on him to make sure he behaves. He is basically on parole. Lisbeth's revenge is justified in motive and in method, while Mary's simply makes her worse. This is why Lisbeth's character is far more sympathetic than Mary's. One could of course argue that Mary's revenge is more satisfying as a fantasy. It is an expression of all her hate towards him and therefore does not have to be constructive, like Lisbeth's.

I have to mention that American Mary has a lot of unnecessary "male gaze" for a film about rape. As you can see from the trailer, Mary herself is often sexualized by the camera. There is, however, often a male character objectifying her in such scenes, allowing the audience to distance themselves from the shot. The rape scene is also decently done. It keeps focus on Mary's and her rapist's faces, alternating between her agony and his hateful lust.

The directors, known as the "Soska Sisters", are big fans of modern horror films and it definitely shows. Therefore I can only recommend this film to horror hound who aren't afraid of uncomfortable gore. Luckily, I am one of those and I really enjoyed it. Watch at your own risk!

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