Canadian filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska previewed their second feature, American Mary, at Film4 FrightFest this August. The twins burst onto the film scene with their riotous debut, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, but their sophomore effort is a different beast all together. A startling horror film packed with rich thematic concerns and delivered with exceptional style, American Mary is destined for cult classic status. Grolsch Film Works caught up with the sisters and lead actress Katharine Isabelle in London to discuss their new movie.
American Mary is very different from your first film.
Sylvia Soska: Yeah, we never wanted to do the same thing twice. A lot of the feedback on Dead Hooker in a Trunk was – negative feedback – there’s no story, the camera work sucked, it’s ugly. It was more of a love letter to Grindhouse cinema and we love Asian and European cinema so what if we did a film like that that focused on the look, the characters, the story and the subtext. We’re horror fans and we wanted to make something different that you hadn’t seen before.
Will you stay in the horror genre or branch out into other areas?
Jen Soska: We love horror so much. When we made Dead Hooker in a Trunk we thought we were making Weekend at Bernie’s, but our version. I think the first time we realised it was a horror movie was when we showed it to my mom and my mom was like ‘Please don’t show this to people they’ll think you’re weird’. We love horror movies so even if we do other genres there are definitely going to be horrific elements.
Sylvia: I thought [American] Mary was a romantic comedy! It’s kind of romantic.
American Mary explores western and – perhaps specifically – American ideas of what constitutes as beautiful. The ugliest characters are the doctors, who appear on the outside as very ordinary-looking.
Sylvia: I never knew a Dr. Grant character but I knew a surgeon who used to do paintings of people being eaten by bears. These people are so eccentric and what do they do? They cut into human beings. Even though they’re saving lives, these guys are f****** quirky. All the people I met from the body mod community, who you assume will be a certain way, are self-aware and a lot of them don’t drink alcohol or do any other substance. Why don’t we have a story like this that’s a commentary on appearance? A person like Katy (Katharine Isabelle) or somebody with horns in their head both are going to be judged on the same thing – their appearance.
Katharine, how did you meet the sisters and get involved in the movie?
Katharine: I got an e-mail that said ‘Take a look at this script’. I was in Whistler and I had my Blackberry and usually I’d just read the breakdown but I read the whole 180 pages and read it two more times that day. It was one of the best scripts I’d ever read and was so intrigued by everything. When you read a script you’ve no idea how it’s going to turn out or whether these chicks are crazy or what. Turns out they are. All I can hope for when reading a script like that is ‘Please let me be involved’ and ‘Please don’t let it get f***** up’.
You wrote the part of Mary Mason for Katharine, right?
Sylvia: Yes, we wrote the role of Mary for Katharine. I fell so in love with the character that I was dreading meeting Katy because I don’t get along with anybody and I loved this character, so what if she isn’t what I had written and she came in there and she’s even better than my already high expectations. I was in the bathroom when she came in having a mental f****** breakdown thinking ‘I am gonna hate her so much’.
Jen: I remember we kind of debated where we would sit with Katy. I told Sylv ‘You sit next to her and I will sit at the end of the table so that when she comes in I can greet her like a civil human being’.
Sylvia: I’m really neurotic.
Was there much changed to the script once Katharine came on board?
Sylvia: There weren’t changes but she added to the character. You have people come on who basically do whatever the f**** you say because they’re like ‘Okay, you wrote and directed it’. Katy had reasons for everything. If something was happening she wanted to know why … she was so utterly dedicated. The warmth and humour she brings to this character. To see a character I love played by an actress I love – I was such a f****** fan sat there by the monitor thinking ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this is real-life right now’. If it wasn’t Katharine Isabelle playing Mary the film wouldn’t be what it was.
American Mary is pretty much a tragedy and not the garish splatter film people may be expecting, judging from your debut.
Katharine: The rampaging hot chick killing people?
Jen: Because it’s so different some people marketing the film were suggesting we have to make it like ‘Sex kitten going around killing people’. And I hate to say this, but it’s a very American way to look at it. There are not really a lot of films like American Mary.
Katharine: If you go into the movie thinking that, you’re not going to be disappointed because it’s not that at all.
Jen: I’d be interested to see what happens in America. We do poke a little bit of fun at America and American culture and their ideals of beauty and normalness.
The film portrays the body modification community in a positive light. Was that something you also intended from the beginning?
Jen: It was a huge priority of ours to show the body mod community in the highest light possible. We hold them in such high regard.
Katharine: They are the nicest, most normal people in the whole movie.
Jen: I always wondered why there hadn’t been a film featuring body modification in the past because it’s so ‘right now’. And plastic surgery … it’s such a bizarre American thing that you can be rich and powerful and you can have everything but you have the ability to manipulate the way you look. It’s a bizarre value system and people ask us ‘Why American Mary’? With this story it can’t not beAmerican Mary.
Written by Martyn Conterio.