Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

Video: ‘American Mary’ Q&A

The Soskas Talk About Horror, Beauty, And Body Modification

The Soskas At The Digital Gym Cinema

Cinema Junkie presented 'American Mary' at the Digital Gym with Jen and Sylvia Soska providing a post-film Q&A.

Over the weekend, The Film Geeks kicked off a late night film series at The Digital Gym Cinema with "American Mary." Here is a video of the post-film Q&A with filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am one of the organizers of The Film Geeks, a group of programmers and film lovers who are volunteering their time to program a late night genre film series at the new micro cinema at the Digital Gym. The screening of "American Mary" was the kick off event for the film series that will showcase independent, foreign, and genre films, and anything that pushes the envelope.

"American Mary" was the perfect film to launch the series. It is a defiantly independent film made by the terrifyingly talented twisted twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska. These women understand horror. They know when to show something and when not to. And most importantly, they are willing to embrace the darkness and take the viewer to places that are not always comfortable. Like fellow Canadian David Cronenberg, they are not interested in "comfortable" cinema. In the post film Q&A, Sylvia Soska mentioned that her mom had told her that if something scares you, you need to explore it because the fear probably comes from a lack of understanding or information. It's that ability to confront horror that makes their film so intoxicatingly good.

The film focuses on Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle), a med student whose financial hardships lead her into the world of underground surgery and body modification. But that's not the horrific part. In fact, it is only in the world of body modification where we feel a sense of normalcy and of people who feel good about themselves. The real horrors come from the people that Mary should have been able to trust, most notably her professors. But it is the male surgeons, with their inflated egos and arrogance who are the true monsters. The film's single most horrific and disturbing scene involves a rape in which Mary's professor drugs her so that she is conscious but immobile, forces her to have sex, and then casually falls asleep with her as if they had just engaged in consensual sex. That scene is chillingly shot so as to see the impact it has on Mary. In Katherine Isabelle's eyes we see something snap in Mary. And that's when the film turns into a revenge story that discovers another layer of horror, which is when we find a darkness in ourselves.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Beth Accomando

Jen and Sylvia Soska at the Digital Gym on Saturday.

The Soskas said they shot the film for less than a million and in 15 short days. The amazing thing is that the frenzied pace at which they had to shoot never colors the cool, elegant pace of the film. The film displays a masterful sense of control and the scenes play out as if the Soskas had all the time in the world to set up their shots and execute the action. So the end result is doubly impressive because of the hardships they had to overcome.

As with Kathryn Bigelow, the Soskas are the kind of women filmmakers I want to see more of. They do not make chick flicks or women's films but rather prove that they can tackle genres considered the territory of men. They work in action and horror, and prove that they can provide a fresh perspective while delivering kick-ass films. In the case of "American Mary," the Soskas give us a female character who refuses to be a passive victim or to blame others for where she ends up. Mary may not be a positive female role model but she's something far rarer and more compelling -- a complex, flawed character who explodes stereotypes. She is, for better or worse, her own person and the Soskas never pass moral judgment on her (that's what a conventional film would do).

After the screening, the Soskas spoke articulately about their film, horror, and the conventional notions of beauty they were challenging in the film. If you were unable to attend the film screening, check out their discussion. "American Mary" is available on Bluray. It is also available on demand through Cox, Comcast, Verizon, iTunes, Vudu, Time Warner and DirecTV. So you have no excuse not to check it out.

The Soskas have vision and I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

In addition to myself, The Film Geeks are: Miguel Rodriguez of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival; Phil Lorenzo and Brian Hu of Pac-Arts; Michael McQuiggan of FilmOut; and Victor Laruccia of the San Diego Italian Film Festival

You can purchase tickets for the next Film Geeks presentation, "Gut" with director Elias on June 14 and 15 here. Tickets for additional films in the series are also online.

You can sign up for the Horrible Imaginings newsletter with Film Geek updates here.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.