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Thursday, 3 April 2014

ALYCE KILLS, AMERICAN MARY, and Seductive Abjection

A Double-Dose of Crazy

Alyce: 4.5 Stars

Mary: 4 Stars

It seems undeniable that Alyce (2011) must have been an influence on the construction of Mary’s (2012) character and character arc. The stories, simply put, have the same basic premise - a young woman struggling to get by finds herself becoming someone almost unrecognizable after suffering a trauma. Although these new identities are much stronger in many ways, they are simultaneously complicated by their very relationship to trauma, which in and of itself implies a state of weakness.

For Alyce, the suffocation of guilt and grief becomes insufferable when she accidentally pushes her best friend, Caroll, off of a roof-top. Her subsequent descent into depression and drug abuse however ends up being only the tip of the iceberg. Eventually, Alyce completely loses her sense of self, transforming into a vengeful, self-motivated, monstrous-figure who actually represents the woman she had always wanted to be. The irony is of course to become this sexy, confident, pleasure-only-driven being, Alyce had to first destroy Caroll (who for her embodied this coveted identity), and then herself.

For Mary, the trauma of rape lends itself to the stark realization that her body and her self can be so easily objectified, violated, and made insignificant by others. This leaves her in a state of vacant sadness - until she decides to take back the control over her sense of self. What begins as a vengeance narrative eventually becomes a pursuit of identity and self-awareness for her. Her character therefore experiences more growth than Alyce is given the chance to because she does attempt to move past her trauma. 

Yet, in many ways Alyce Kills is a stronger film. As much as I love Katherine Isabelle (Mary) and the roles she chooses, the acting really stands out as being a driving force behind the power of Alyce Kills. Furthermore, the film is visually striking, with engaging, thought-provoking characters and views of the world, as it does attempt to look outside of itself in a profound way. American Mary does flirt with the idea of thinking about how the world works, but it does so rather superficially by only focuses on the significance of self-expression. This makes it a fascinating film in its own right, but the message is very straightforward. In Alyce Kills there is room for interpretation and debate because we see how Alyce herself struggles to decide how she understands the world.

No doubt, these women both earn Gold stars for going completely nuts, but that their transformations are so calculated is what makes them figure as monstrous (otherwise these would be dramas, not horrors). The notion of abjection weighs heavy in reading both films. Defined by Julia Kristeva as that which does not respect borders, and that which disturbs identity, system, and order, its relationship to the horror genre is obvious. But within these two films it can be discussed as relating to the characters themselves as they transform into monstrous versions of themselves. Notably, abjection is at once feared and desired for its seductive nature, and this can be seen in both Alyce and Mary as their sexual awakenings fall in line with their new violent identities (although for Mary the sexuality is retained to her presentation). Thus their identities shift to Barbara Creed’s concept of the Monstrous-Feminine as they allow themselves the pleasures of violence and sexuality - which is ultimately the seduction of the abject.

Needless to say, these two are Quality films, and I highly recommend them to any Horror fans or those interested in theories of Gender.