Katharine Isabelle gets twisted in American Mary
For the record, local filmmaking team Jen and Sylvia Soska do not possess “freaky weird twin powers”. Not according to actor Katharine Isabelle, and “not unless they’re hiding them or something”.
You can hardly blame anyone for wondering, though, since popular culture, Josef Mengele, The Shining, and something a little deeper inside of us has conferred a spooky otherness on Xeroxed humans.
Plus, the Soskas—otherwise known to a rapidly expanding fan base as the Twisted Twins—haven’t shied away from capitalizing on our fascination.
“They’re pimping it for all that it’s worth,” Isabelle says with a deep laugh, calling the Georgia Straight from a downtown Vancouver hotel and reminding us that the raven-haired sisters tend to lounge around in identical fetish gear when they aren’t making awesomely sick horror movies. “I don’t know that they would get as much attention as they do if it was just one of them and they didn’t play up the whole thing. If it was someone like me—all mousey, brown-haired, by myself with ripped jeans—I don’t think anyone would give a shit.”
The Vancouver-born actor has gotten a good up-close view of her new friends the Soskas. Earlier this year, they all went on a 10-day tour of the U.K. after their film American Mary knocked out genre fans at London’s FrightFest last August. In April, the team added a Silver Raven (from the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film) to a stack of awards, including five from last year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival alone, along with an outstanding-performance nod for Isabelle from Austin’s make-or-break Fantastic Fest. The Soskas wrote American Mary (which opens Friday [May 31])—about an impoverished med student who turns to underground body-modification surgery to pay the bills—because they loved Isabelle so much in another cult fave, 2000’s Ginger Snaps.
The funny part is that Isabelle does not exactly love horror movies. “Hostel?” she says, “I can’t deal with that shit. I don’t like it. But things like Ginger Snaps and American Mary, I was drawn to the dark comedy, the humour, the wit of the characters.” She adds: “But you don’t get crazy rabid fans who come to see you at conventions and who build whole blogs and websites around Canadian independent family dramas about, like, incest and growing wheat and stuff. The community is so enthusiastic that you really do wanna make good ones that people get attached to. And then all of a sudden you’re a scream queen, even though I’ve only done, like, three horror movies in 26 years.”
It’s her own fault, of course. Isabelle‘s towering performance in American Mary is your gateway to this smart and nasty film, which then turns around and gives the genre a powerful kick in its permanently adolescent balls. Decked out in her own fetish wear, Mary is an avenging angel in a grim world of peeler-bar thugs and doctors who rape. On that last count, she subjects her own assailant to a protracted and diabolically cruel revenge, not to mention a practical one. “She’s practising her art on him. It’s very planned; it’s clever; and it’s aiding her in her schooling,” Isabelle says with a coy lilt.
That the only other sympathetic characters in American Mary are suffering from severe body dysmorphia is another stroke of perverse brilliance. Mary is introduced to the body-mod community through Beatress, a stripper (memorably and squeakily played by local burlesque queen Tristan Risk) who has remodelled herself into Betty Boop. And then there’s Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg), a tragic beauty who wants to be a “living doll”. We’ve all looked under Barbie’s skirt, so you can probably guess what kind of surgery that requires.
Meanwhile, the squeamish Isabelle was carefully immersed into the real world of body modification, surgery, and all that other icky goo by the Soskas. “They were really good with stuff like, ‘Don’t Google septic penis,’ ” she says, “and then I did, and then I went, ‘Okay, I am not going to Google things that you tell me not to Google anymore, thanks very much. I will listen to you now.’ So they would show me everything I needed to know, like procedures, without me having to walk through the strange, scary world of the Internet myself.”
As you might expect, the twins—whose first feature was 2009’s Dead Hooker in a Trunk—had already brought a certain amount of gusto to their research. It seems inevitable that the public’s interest in American Mary is indivisible from the sensation they generate, and Isabelle knows full well that the reign of twin terror has only just begun.
“They have a pile of scripts, and they’re all fucking genius,” she says. “They’re interesting, they’re smart, they’re funny, they’re weird, they have a real fucking point to them—there’s a shove-in-your-face point to everything they do—and it’s difficult to get all of that, really hard to get all that, in one movie.
“And they’ve got a pile of them. So look out.”