The first is Beatrice, a woman who has gotten surgery to become more doll-like, supposedly de-sexualizing her in the eyes of men. Her sing-song voice and mask-like visage immediately paints her as some sort of out-of-the-box slasher villain, but despite her Betty Boop affectations, she’s simply a lonely woman with a very specific problem. Beatrice’s life companion Ruby needs a similar surgery, a radical body modification that no medical professional would ever entertain. Ten thousand dollars later, the surgery is complete, and a thankful Beatrice is now Mary’s accidental best friend.
The rest of the film seems to be building to a collision between that footage and the unraveling of Mary’s highly lucrative side operation, though “American Mary” seems less motivated by story structure than by showcasing an open appreciation for diverse, personality-driven plastic surgery that straddles the line between believable and horrific. More screen time is granted to sequences like Mary’s appointment with two Russian sisters played by the film’s writer-directors, the Soska Twins, who reveal themselves to be first-grade hams as performers. The radical surgery these two request does nothing to advance the plot, but it’s just one of many additions that establishes “American Mary” as a film that would rather fetishize surgery sequences set to rock music than actually address questions of identity. The credits reveal the film is "For Eli Roth," and like Roth, the statuesque Soskia Twins appear desperate to seem viable in front of the camera as well as behind.
It’s the second half that chucks narrative convention out the window by revealing that the incomplete, momentum-less “American Mary” is all about the shock value of normalizing extreme body modification. Dreams slip into reality and fantasy assumes a nightmarish plausibility as Mary’s rationale melts away; one could argue her transformation into an avenging sadist takes the teeth out of the film’s medical industry critique, turning it into just another gothic story of one who abuses absolute power. Ultimately, “American Mary” simply reveals itself as a film with little on its mind, content to scare rubberneckers into contemplating the backstory of the more outlandish body manipulation jobs they’ve seen in public. A documentary would have sufficed. [C-]