Jen and Sylvia Soska have quickly gained popularity within the horror genre scene in their short amount of time as filmmakers. The Soska Twins gained noticed in 2010 for their indie flick, DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, which was a rough looking film but showed that the two ladies were capable of something more with the right budget. The sisters also happened to be charismatic figures and knew how to promote their work, garnering them fans that looked forward to their next releases. 2012's AMERICAN MARY and 2014's WWE produced SEE NO EVIL 2 showed that the Soska Twins' stocks were rising within the genre. While both films are very different in many ways, they each show that Jen and Sylvia have something to say in terms of narrative, the use of their stars, and how they visualize the story they want to tell.
Katharine Isabelle - Mary Mason
Antonio Cupo - Billy Barker
Tristan Risk - Beatress Johnson
David Lovgren - Dr. Alan Grant
Twan Holliday - Lance Delgreggio
Paula Lindberg - Ruby Realgirl
Clay St. Thomas - Dr. Walsh
John Emmet Tracy - Detective Dolor
Genre - Horror/Drama/Rape-Revenge
Running Time - 102 Minutes
Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) is a smart, but very broke, medical student who plans on becoming a successful surgeon. In order to pay her bills, Mary answers an online ad for a masseuse at a strip club. When she meets the club owner, Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo), and tells her why she needs the money, Billy feels Mary is more serviceable for her medical skills when she has to perform surgery on one of his foes.
After Mary successfully performs a nasty surgery on Billy's enemy, word gets around about her talents - especially within the underground body modification community, who want Mary to perform unconventional operations that most doctors would refuse to do. As she builds her resume, Mary is invited to a party where she is drugged and raped by her sketchy professor, Dr. Alan Grant (David Lovgren). When she learns what happened to her, Mary changes her outlook on the medical field, wanting to use what she learned to get revenge on those who wronged her.
Good Things: I think AMERICAN MARY is more hit than miss, as it has a few flaws even with its interesting premise that keeps your attention for most of the runtime. The film, in a lot of ways, reminded me of FX's Nip/Tuck - a show about plastic surgery and how it not affects the patients, but the doctors performing these surgeries. In this case, Mary Mason is an intelligent med student who wants to be a surgeon. But due to circumstances out of her control, she gets deep into the body mod field - which leads to both highs and lows for Mary personally and professionally. It's an interesting look at a trend that doesn't get much spotlight, probably due to how conservative the world has become in the last decade. But watching Mary perform certain surgeries that aren't considered normal, like removing limbs and splitting tongues, is fascinating. The characters who want to change their looks aren't really treated as freaks or anything offensive either. They're treated as ordinary people who just to want to change themselves to express who they are as individuals. Yes, the body mod stuff is meant to be shocking, and probably horrific, which might offend some. But I liked that AMERICAN MARY brought something different compared to the same-ol', same ol'.
The acting was also very good. Katharine Isabelle, in particular, is very good as Mary Mason. Looking very sexy, Isabelle carries a calm, yet cold demeanor that creates an interesting vibe in contrast to the crazier world around her. She never bats an eye when people ask her to perform body modifications. Even when she's raped, she doesn't grieve for too long, before quickly deciding on getting revenge. Isabelle plays it off perfectly, displaying a level of control and nonchalance that makes her mesmerizing to watch. The charming and likeable Antonio Cupo, as the sleazy potential love interest Billy, is great - as well as Tristan Risk as the annoyingly Betty Boop-ish Beatress. We also get a cool cameo by the Soska Sisters themselves, in which they look great and even bite a stripper's lip until she bleeds, before succumbing to limb exchange surgery. The fake Russian accents are more funny than believable, but I think that was the point. I thought all the actors play their roles really well.
I also felt the direction was solid for the most part. The film had a low budget, but it looks nicely polished. The colors are a bit soft and dim, reflecting Mary's demeanor, in a nice touch. The film looks cold and feels cold, but there's a subtle warmth dying to break through underneath, especially in how the Soska Sisters handle the treatment of those who enjoy body modification. The fact that they're never treated like freaks or something disturbing is visually [and in terms of narrative] refreshing. The special effects are pretty damn great too, considering this film wasn't made with Hollywood money. There's no CGI that I could see in this film, with the practical effects definitely making things look realistic as possible. I can see some inspiration from David Cronenberg and even Takashi Miike in this film. The editing and the framing of certain shots are extremely effective. It's a very stylish film that really impressed me. The potential from DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK is fulfilled here in AMERICAN MARY.
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. It's really a character study of a med student who becomes changed due to many hardships in her life, which eventually lead her into the body modification world. Yes, she gets raped. But it's never exploitative. Yes, she gets revenge on the rapist. Again, it's never exploitative, even though what's implied creates that in our heads. You understand Mary - her struggle to pay bills and finding a job that many would see as immoral, her justification for wanting revenge on a man who belittled her in front of her peers only to rape her after he drugged her, and her embrace of this underground society that's treated her more like a human being than "normal" society has. The characters around Mary are quirky and could be seen as odd to some. But they're fleshed out with actual personalities and traits that make them all easy to relate to on some level. Billy is a pervert and sleaze, but he actually has feelings for Mary - not sure how to deal with them and tell her flat out. Beatress looks strange on the outside, but she's just a caring friend who wants to be accepted on the inside. The real freaks are Mary's professors, who have parties where they rape women and then videotape it. And they get what's coming to them. Other filmmakers would have made AMERICAN MARY to shock people. But the Soska Twins never go to that level, giving us a picture of a different world that not many filmmakers care to delve into, and giving it the respect it deserves. They may look different on the outside, but they're human just like the rest of us. Everything but the rape scene is treated as something beautiful - something that's not common in the horror genre. I think that's why I was so invested in AMERICAN MARY - it didn't insult me and I appreciated that.
Bad Things: AMERICAN MARY is not a perfect film, due to issues within its interesting narrative. For one, I feel we don't see enough of Mary's struggles with her financial situation, nor do we see her struggle with being a celebrity within this body mod world. Things happen way too quickly, or happen off-screen, not allowing the audience to really get the full picture of Mary's new career path. Even after she's raped, we only get glimpses of her turmoil in feeling violated by people she was supposed to trust - instead quickly going into the revenge portion with the help of Billy and his friends. I get the focus was on Mary doing these surgeries and becoming a star to many who want to change their physical appearance. But it loses something human when things like these aren't addressed with enough time to really resonate. Should the whole film have been about Mary dealing with the rape and slowly creating a plan to get revenge on her violator? No, absolutely not because the film isn't about that really. But a little more time to Mary's life and getting her sense of how she thinks and feels would have been nice. Things came together a bit too easily for me, which is a shame since I liked Mary's character a lot. Just more depth to certain situations would have been good.
Glenn "Kane" Jacobs - Jacob Goodnight
Danielle Harris - Amy
Katharine Isabelle - Tamara
Chelan Simmons - Kayla
Kaj-Erik Eriksen - Seth
Greyston Holt - Will
Michael Eklund - Holden
Lee Majdoub - Carter
Genre - Horror/Slasher
Running Time - 90 Minutes
During the same night as the events of the original SEE NO EVIL, Jacob Goodnight (Kane) is wheeled into the local morgue during a graveyard shift that birthday girl Amy (Danielle Harris) and Seth (Kaj-Erik Eriksen) are working. Amy doesn't mind working during her birthday, which pleases Seth who has taken a liking to his co-worker. However, their boss Holden (Michael Eklund) surprises Amy with a birthday party at the morgue with her friends.
One of Amy's friends, a flirty and slightly drunk Tamara (Katharine Isabelle), learns that Goodnight is one of the corpses in the morgue. Excited and turned on, she takes her boyfriend Carter (Lee Majdoub) to see the body and begins having sex around him. Unfortunately, this fetish wakes up Goodnight, leading to a repeat of Goodnight's previous activities...
The cast is pretty great here, considering they're not really given much to do after the film's first half but be stereotypical slasher victims. But the cast shines in the first half of the film, where the script allows some character development to occur and gives the actors material to work with. Danielle Harris, who is always awesome, does great as lead girl Amy. She's extremely likeable in the role, has nice chemistry with Kaj-Erik Eriksen, and gets to do some real acting in certain scenes that allow her to flesh out her character. Speaking of Eriksen, I thought he was extremely likeable as well as Seth. He was the stereotypical Nice Guy role, but it takes the perception of the character on a different path, which I liked. Eriksen had great acting moments as well as he and Harris made for a great duo. As for Kane, the guy was always the best part of the original film. He's still as imposing and intimidating as ever, using his physicality to speak louder than words. I also dug his new murder outfit, which made him a bit less generic than his appearance the first time around. I wouldn't mind seeing him do another film, just murdering people for the hell of it.
However, the best actor was Katharine Isabelle, who gives a really funny and sexy performance as Tamara. Her character [she's obsessed with serial killers and is a bit of a necrophiliac] is wonderfully fresh and Isabelle has no trouble holding back in delivering how her character is described. Isabelle is great as a drunk, a flirt, and even a dry humper on Kane [lucky bastard]. It's the total opposite of her AMERICAN MARY role, which is probably why I enjoyed her so much here. She's so campy and over-the-top, that she gives the film the energy that it lacks at times, unfortunately. I honestly thought she was the highlight of this sequel.
We also get cameos from a certain pair of sisters as well, in a nice Hitchcockian moment. I thought it was pretty cool.
Speaking of the Soskas, I thought they did a good job visualizing as much of the story as they could. The hospital setting is always one of those locations that will always be creepy in the world of horror, and that's no different here. And I think the Soskas use the location well in terms of shots, framing, and even props for Kane to use. Unlike the first film, there's a feeling of cold and bleakness in the sequel. The first film had this dirty, grungy feeling about it. SEE NO EVIL 2 is more polished and cleaner looking, which I liked. It's a lot more subtle than the first film [which had a kinetic style going for it] and the photography is quite nice here. It's obvious the Soska Sisters were inspired by 1981's HALLOWEEN II, which is not a bad sequel template to emulate. I thought the ladies did a good job setting things up and shooting the mayhem that occurred throughout.
Bad Things: Unfortunately, the script happens to be extremely generic and bland. Once the murders begin to happen, the film takes its familiar road to its conclusion, making you wish the story had more twists and turns than it actually does. While the last 15 minutes does have a surprise I didn't expect, the rest of the film plays out like any 80's slasher. That's both a good and bad thing because I like slasher films, but it's been 3 decades and I expect something fresher at this point.
I also thought that while Jacob Goodnight is more of a vengeful monster this time around, wanting revenge for his mom's death, he also loses what made him so interesting in the first part. There's barely any eye gouging here. The religious aspects of the character are gone. He's now Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers - that superhuman killer who can't, or won't, be stopped. I felt the character had some personality in the first film that seemed to be lacking here.
THE FINAL HOWL
While they're not perfect films, the latest films from Jen & Sylvia Soska are pretty decent watches for the most part. 2012's AMERICAN MARY is a cool little flick dealing with a topic that not many filmmakers touch upon, and they do it with respect and class. Katharine Isabelle is great as Mary Mason, and I liked the polish look and storytelling within the first two acts. SEE NO EVIL 2, while nothing riveting or memorable, is a vast improvement over the first film. Thanks to fresh pairs of eyes, a great cast, and deeper-than-expected characters, this sequel manages to be a pretty fun time regardless of the many issues [especially how awfully generic it is] it has. The Soska Sisters are putting their mark on the current state of horror - and whether you're fans of not, you got to respect these ladies for their work. Look forward to seeing what they do next.
SEE NO EVIL 2
AMERICAN MARY (2012) TRAILER
SEE NO EVIL 2 (2014) TRAILER