Whether you came in off the street, or sat through the charming and intoxicating opening act, the second film of the opening night of Toronto After Dark was decidely dark, instantly arresting the audience only to methodically exact it’s own sadistic ways. Written and directed by the deliciously devious Soska sisters-the Twisted Twins- American Mary is an slow descent into a dark, bloody world, deranged minute after deranged minute. The pair were in attendance for the showcase, braving the rain like many rabid fans, of which there were likely more than a few who would have sat for two hours just listening to the quick-witted and charming twins talk.
The dark-haired deviants stepped off the stage at the Bloor Cinema to present the film, but not before announcing the breaking news that Anchor Bay will be releasing the film on DVD, a decision that seems a no-brainer after watching the movie.
The films follows ever-so-closely broke medical student Mary (Kathryn Isabelle), struggling to both pay attention in class and deal with her bills. Cash-strapped, she turns to the most common way for attractive students to make a lot of money at once: stripping. But when a bloody incident arises during her interview, her skills as a surgeon are put to the test, and she passes with flying colours (or just one colour: red), she earns herself that fistful of dollars.
Word spreads of her abilities, and she is solicited once more, exposing Mary to the strange world of body modication. She meets the creepy Beatrix, who no matter how long you see or hear her on screen, you never become comfortable with, to what looks like the start of a not-so-beautiful friendship. As Mary begins to transform others under the scapel, sculpting their bodies to any bizarre end, she herself transforms.
At the heart of this bloody, surgical horror, is a curious discussion about how we feel on the inside versus how we appear on the outside, and how close those two ideas can be. Unlike those she carves up, Mary’s attitude on the inside do not match her outward appearance, one, based on the numerous revealing outfits she dons, has already been perfected. One client wants her tongue split, another wants to look more androgynous, and a pair of very familiar-looking devilish twins want to be even more closely connected.
Elsewhere there is a story about unrequited love, and another involving an uncomfortable relationship between Mary and her professor, but the occasionally mistepping film is really a character study. Mary, witness to deviant worlds that money and power create, becomes more disillusioned on the inside, yet she seems more pure and composed on the outside.
You may become disillusioned too, or at least squeamish. The Soska twins rather than simply making you uncomfortable with gore, which they do (though nowhere near as gross as they could), disturb you with thoughts and ideas, and how quickly one can lose innocence in a world instructed by money and sex. It’s attempt to be a tragic portrait of a beautiful, smart youth works well to balance out the gore, and keeps this from being a simple torture film. It is meant to shock mentally and emotionally as much as it is physically, maybe even more, and in that there lies a fascinating and disturbing film that is hard not to enjoy.