I saw AMERICAN MARY. And I loved it. But this is why I call my reviews “Slept On It.” I don’t like telling you my first reaction to a movie. I want to tell you my more lasting reaction to a movie. How I felt the next day. And this is a great example as to why I prefer telling you later, not when it’s fresh in my head.
Last night, I was harsh on the Soska Sisters. Last night, I vented all the “more” I wanted. I nitpicked every flaw, every missed opportunity. A great example: At one point I turned to my husband and said “It feels slow.” And being the bright man he is, he said “It’s because you don’t know where it’s going.” True. I had no idea what act I was in, so because I didn’t have my own film viewing clock ticking down (and you know we all do), I thought it was slow. I said it just as it was going into act three. And looking at some reviews and message boards, this is a common complaint and praise. Some will say it’s all over the place. Others will say it’s the ingenuity of not sticking to formula. Both are valid. I’m still wishing they could have kept their focus on a tighter storytelling, but I feel the freshness of voice redeemed them.
This morning, I woke up excited for the genre. I was hard on it last night because I wanted the whole female-led horror world to be fully formed. It’s been a slow grower since Kathryn Bigelow directed NEAR DARK. So I may have lead you astray saying this is a movie review. This is not that. This is a celebration. And a little explanation as to why I’ve been waiting for decades for this movie.
I love horror. I love Romero films. I love Twilight Zone episodes. I love Stephen King. I want to be terrified. And anyone who has had the experience of sitting next to me in a horror film knows I have developed an amazing suspension of disbelief. I can enjoy the ride with the worst of films. I will walk out disappointed, but you would never know seeing me curled up in a ball on the theater seat, sipping my soda like a child in the dark with her sippy cup.
But I always felt a little left out. I felt I wasn’t getting the inside joke of it all. It was a man’s world and a genre primarily created out of men’s minds. And while I fell in love with some great characters, I never felt reflected in any of them.
Fast forward to 2012, 25 years after NEAR DARK, and I still felt alone. Sure, in those years some ladies stepped up in the genre. AMERICAN PSYCHO happened. SILENT HOUSE happened. And some men tried harder to get our voices in their films. GRACE. MAY. THE WOMAN. Those happened. THE DESCENT happened. That was pretty big. I was afraid to go into the women’s restroom after that movie. But overall, I was still settling. Overall, the women were following man made tropes. The men were still making what they knew. They just were knowing more than before. I had to go deep in the indie trough to see something that was “me.” It’s out there. If you’re a woman who loves the scary, it’s out there. But there’s a beauty to budget. I’m going to be honest, I like the bigger budgets. I don’t do well with a credit card movie. And why should we be settling for that anyway?? A good director should have a crew. You’re going to get a better movie if the whole cast and crew have done more than 10 days with more than Twizzlers in their bellies.
So now we’re in 2013 and I am so excited. First, I saw SIGHTSEERS a few weeks back and felt hope. I saw me. Er, I don’t crochet lingerie. But come on! I can relate to crocheting some lingerie! And now I’m in the afterglow of AMERICAN MARY and I feel downright ecstatic. There are few man made tropes here. There is a exquisite merger of the macabre and sexuality that I believe has been generally avoided. Horror has exploited sex and exploited the grotesque but I love the feminine touch of merging the two and creating a supporting cast of women’s internal fears: Ruby and Beatress, our madonna/whore complex realized.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Why do I love horror? I love to become horror movie heroines. And for decades, I’ve settled for being the survivor. I’ve clung to the five minutes of victory after 90 minutes of fear. And, in a way, isn’t that the sad truth of being a woman in a man’s medium? We take these crumbs. So AMERICAN MARY fed me a fucking meal. I may not like the dessert as much as I liked the appetizers. Fuck that. Thank you Jen and Sylvia Soska for making me a meal I can eat, relish and digest. No more crumbs. Bring me more!
PROS: Keeps you guessing, great F/X make up, made from some twisted gray matter
CONS: These characters are too interesting to gloss over and the depth of them isn’t explored as much as they deserve
RECOMMENDATION: Look closely. Mary is never innocent. It starts a facade and she’s given a reason to lose the facade. She doesn’t change herself. She discovers herself.