Jen and Sylvia Soska, the Twisted Twins, talk American Mary, in theaters this Friday
Dead Hooker in a Trunk duo Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska, otherwise known as The Twisted Twins, are literally changing the face of horror this Friday as their heralded horror neo-classic American Mary makes its way to select American theaters.
This gruesome story follows medical student Mary (Katharine Isabelle) who is growing increasingly broke and disenchanted with school and the established doctors she once idolized. The allure of easy money sends her on a desperate quest through the messy world of underground surgeries, which leaves more marks on her than her so-called freakish clientele. As the Twisted Twins will tell you...Appearances are everything.
We recently caught up with the Canadian duo, who are far less scary than their on-creen cameo appearance in American Mary might lead you to believe. Here is our conversation, where we delve into the history behind these characters, some of the true facts about the body modification culture that the movie devotes itself too, and how the pair function as a team.
Is what we see on screen in American Mary real? The Twisted Twins will never tell!
Jen Soska: I know this can be a nightmare when we are sitting across from you. When I listen back to some of our audio interviews, I can't even tell who's who. And I am me!
Sylvia Soska: The confusion doesn't bother us at all. A lot of people just call us the twins. That's just how it goes. We really are one entity in two different bodies that are identical. There is no offense in it.
Jen Soska: Also, if you are an astute studier of our interviews, we also interchange who answers what question. But we will say it verbatim in the exact same way.
That's kind of awesome, though. I like that.
Sylvia Soska: Yes, we are actually one functioning human being in two bodies.
On that note, what is the dynamic like between you two as directors on set? Do you each have your own separate responsibilities? Or do you work together, and interchange those responsibilities?
Sylvia Soska: Definitely. Though...Even though we are identical twins, we have very different personalities. On set, we always joke that she's the mom and I'm the dad. She is so giving, she is so there, she knows every little detail down to the tiniest nuance. If I glance over, I'll decide if you did something really awesome or really terrible. I get so involved with the world the story is taking place in, the reality within that doesn't become fake to me. So Jen has to break that open. She says, "Well, her name is actually Katie, its not Mary, and you will eventually have to stop talking to her like that.
I'd read a couple of articles about the movie before viewing it, and the one thing I kept seeing over and over again is how original American Mary is, and how unique it is in the horror genre. One of the things I noticed is that this may be the first movie in the horror genre that deals with surgery, where someone doesn't swing a big sloppy Whopper Jr. over a corpse, munching away as they inspect the body.
Sylvia Soska: (Laughs) This is such a weird, fantastical story, we wanted to make sure we kept one foot in reality. I feel bad for all my medical practitioner friends. I had them read the script. I had to make sure that things were realistic. And a lot of these people were not big into body modification. They don't believe in those procedures, so we had a flesh artist come on board. He plays the splayed penis guy in the film. He was there to make sure we didn't go too out there. This is one of the first films that really deals with body modification. We didn't want to do any disrespect to that. We wanted to show these people as they are. The psychotic parts are the things that happen between Mary and her mentor.
How legal are some of the bodymods that we see in the film?
Jen Soska: Unfortunatly, if you are going to do body modification...Its funny. If you are going to school, and you want to do body modification, they won't let you go if they find out. If you want to be a cosmetic surgeon, not a problem. If you want to practice body modification in North America, as well as other places in the world, you are not allowed to use any anesthetic. I'm not sure which procedures you are familiar with, but there are some procedures that are extremely painful. The use of anesthetic is vital in order to not make the patient suffer. But there is a slogan that goes along with the bodymod culture, "Some pain is inevitable, but the suffering is optional." You see that a lot with the suspensions that they do as well. They say that the pain is there to remind you that you are alive. I don't say there are pain junkets. In life, you come up against pain regardless. You just have a much more intelligent and mature way of coping with pain, and in a way, it's a bit of foreplay to cope with the pain. Right now, a lot of people offer body modifications that aren't professional. They don't use anesthetics. But the thing about the ones that aren't professional is, the people that get these modification have to end up going to get them repaired. You can get a lot of money doing modifications. But you see botched jobs. That's why we had a consultant on American Mary. There is a lot of bad work done on a lot of young people. They so badly want to get it done. But you know, there isn't in the Yellow Pages, "Get you tongue forked here."
Sylvia Soska: A lot of these procedures will happen in hotel rooms. They will happen in the back rooms of a tattooing and piercing parlor. I've even heard that they take place in veterinary clinics. There was this one famous case that happened in Alberta. This guy went to see one of these flesh artists to get his penis modified. He brought his friend along with him. Everything went fine. He went home, and everybody was happy. But the friend goes to his parents and tells them what happened. The parents go to the police, and the police go to the flesh artist's house. They go through all of his stuff, and all of his books, and they see all of the procedures he has done. And he gets arrested. We don't live in a day and age where it's safe or expected for people to get these procedures. Whereas, if you want to go into plastic surgery, and you want to get boobs that are three times the size of your head, that's totally fine. But if you want to fork your penis or your tongue, that's still a little taboo...Well, more than a little bit...
We do see that scene with the guy and his splayed penis in the movie. In terms of the bodymod culture, what is the craziest thing you saw done to someone's penis? What is the most out there procedure?
Jen Soska: I think voluntary castration would be the thing considered the strangest. I'm not an owner or operator of a penis. I'm not sure what the meaning or the thought behind ultimate castration is. To each their own. Maybe they don't identify with gender. Or, the ultimate thrill is to film it and have it removed. I think the most shocking thing is double-sized penises, or any amputation, or slicing and forking the member.
Sylvia Soska: Even with castration, a lot of the guys that do these procedures...Someone doesn't just call them up and say, "I want my nipples removed today." They do a lot of explaining, making sure these people know what they want to do, and that they are sound minded. One of the things I've seen that is most shocking is called Bagel Head, where they inject saline into your face and around your anatomy, so that makes the flesh pop up and go in this weird circular form. I like the aesthetic of body modification. I like the asymmetry, more than the wackier things. But to each their own. As long as they are able to do it in a safe way. And there is a good reason behind it. A sound minded reason. I can't say I have anything against it.
It certainly sounds like you guys had a lot of material to work with in creating some of the scenes in your screenplay. I don't want to give away spoilers, but when you are working towards the end of your film, and what you are setting up as the story is told, how do you decided to reach the conclusion you do knowing someone, somewhere, might want a sequel in this franchise-hungry business that is movies today?
Sylvia Soska: I really don't like sequels. I have always hated them. I don't like that you have this original idea. You are having this discussion about the idea, and then all of a sudden it becomes a money making scheme...Let's make this more shocking, cause know you have to connect with the fanbase from the first film. All of the ideas and the heart being watered down over and over again...One of the things I liked about creating a character like Mary was, she was unlike what you usually see. She has flaws. Lots of flaws. To have a character with the freedom to do things like that, there has to be a certain response to that. There are only so many places she can go. Before the end sequence, what ultimately happens with the character, its almost like she is already there. You just see this person go through the roof. She is so naive, and so hopeful about what she wants to do. The pursuit of the American dream, and she takes every chance. But every experience that she has, it just gets ripped away from her, and it gets worse and worse...That's a bit of a commentary on the recession and the world we live in right now. The struggles for women in a male dominated industry. It's so hard to make ends meet, even now. Think about starting when you are completely impoverished. You want to do great things that cost a lot of money. Well, you will have to make sacrifices. They are going to be amoral sacrifices. The person that you are...Depending on the choices that you make, you may not be the same person you started out as.
And in regards to Mary herself, this is one of the few females in horror who isn't being chased by a killer. And maybe one of the few independent females in any film who could certainly get a boyfriend if she wanted one, but none of her destiny is hinged on a romance of any kind. She is a self-contained, independent woman...
Jen Soska: It was so important for us to make her that way. Because you see the opposite so often. You see the girl that cries in the shower, you see the girl that runs to her boyfriend, you see the girl that relies on guys to help her out. Just because, how many times have they made women vulnerable? So, yeah. Vulnerability is a part of women, I don't know if it's a part of men...But for every time they made women a little more forgivable, and more vulnerable, and more sympathetic, you need to have a character that isn't. We're not all just cookie cutter people. There is darkness in everyone. And some of us never rely on any one. Some of us stand on our own two feet. You see that predominantly with male characters. You want a female character that little girls can look up to.
Playing off that, can you give me some of the background into the creation of Lance, and how he plays into that in the story, and what he essentially means to the overall arc of the story itself? We don't usually get to see the goon, or the muscle, get that moment of humanization. He's not just a bodyguard. He's a real guy, with real emotion...
Sylvia Soska: Thank you so much for saying that, Twan Holliday, who is playing Lance, really is that character. He is a 7-foot tough guy with all these tattoos that has a heart of gold. The tagline we used for the film, everywhere we could, was that appearances are everything. What does a girl like Mary have in common with someone like Lance? Who is somebody in the bodymod community. Before anyone takes the trouble to get to know you, they judge you on your appearance. What if we changed all of that, and flipped it on its head? We barely see him talking. He is scary, when you see him, the whole time. Then all of a sudden you have the heart of the film, and its exposed. These people are having a conversation without having a conversation. They are talking about the first time they found something really horrible. The justifications, the time, there is a lot of humanity there. I love bringing humanity and real life into characters you don't normally see. It was great to have Twan Holliday come in as that character. Everytime Twan is cast in something, he is a killer. Or he is a thug. You don't get this type of opportunity with that kind of aesthetic. I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if we did something different like that?" Especially where you didn't expect it. I have read some harsh criticisms. Like, "The twins hate men." No, no, no! I wanted to look at all of these flawed characters. Lance is so sweet and so kind. He may be taking these people, and putting bags over their heads, and making them disappear, but he has that really heartfelt talk, where you have your life out of control, and you don't know what your doing, and then all of a sudden somebody is relating to one of these experiences...Then things are starting to make sense again.
I don't want you guys to give away your secrets, but watching the actors in this movie, I never once thought about make-up, or whether I was watching SFX. I never questioned anything, to me it was all-real. I don't know if you want to talk about how much of it is make-up, like with Beatrice. I didn't look that actress up. I don't know if that is her real face, or if its something that was created in a trailer every morning before heading out on set...
Jen Soska: I won't say any spoilers. But that was our entire intention with the film. Not only did we have amazing prosthetics done by MastersFX, who have done True Blood and Six Feet Under. Anytime you've gone, "Oh, my god, that was so cool!" In a film, that has been MastersFX. We also got an actual nod from the community, so that you'd never know if you were looking at something real or something that was a modification. We grew up in the 80s. That was a time when so many phenomenal artists were doing all of these amazing practical effects. Like Jacob's Ladder and The Thing. You didn't know if it was real. It looks real. There is none of this CGI stuff that takes you out of the moment. I think that is a huge part of how we approach effects in film. Our love for original horror, the stuff that got us really excited. Even though you look at it, and it looks kind of strange, it looks real. Because it was an actual thing. Some CGI is more expensive. Sometimes, people think expensive means better. But anytime I see CGI in a film, and maybe there is a great CGI horror film that blows away my expectations, I can still tell its CGI. It takes me out of the film. It ruins that moment. It destroys that suspension of belief when you are watching a film. There are so many films that do CGI, but some still do practical effects...There is a war going on. They advertised very much that the new Evil Dead was 100% practical effects. Well, that was a lie. It wasn't 100% practical effects. I think that was a misdirect for the fans. On American Mary, I can tell you, it was 100% practical effects or real live people.
I think having 100% practical effects here makes the movie timeless. Especially compared to some of the stuff that comes out now, which looks dated the minute it hits movie screens.
Jen Soska: I think that's absolutely right. Even though I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, anything that was CGI, I watch it now, and I'm like, "Ahhh...I wish they would have tried that practically." But I will still look at it and think, "Wow, that demon is cool looking."
You play two twins seeking a special bodymod in the film. We see what that modification is in a drawing, but we never see the two twins live and in the flesh as these two demon girls. What brought that decision, to keep their altered forms a mystery?
Sylvia Soska: I would have loved to do that. There was going to be a scene at the end of the movie where Mary is updating her website, that the Twins bought for her, and it was going to have a whole slew of all these different great effects. Everything that she'd done. We would have gotten to see all of her procedures. Unfortunately, we had 15 days to shoot and a very modest budget. I can't speak highly enough of the team that came together, and made this movie under such constraints. But there is so much more I would have liked to say. Its tough. It's hard to make a movie that you are emotionally invested in, like we did with American Mary. I sometimes go off at night thinking about this, or thinking about that. It becomes a part of your life. I wanted people to see these things afterwards. And we did go over the designs with MastersFX, with what they were going to look like when the Demon Twins actually became Demon Twins. We never got to look back at that. That is something I've heard from a lot of people, "Well, why didn't we get to see that?" I think that's something we are going to do one day. Because MastersFX, we're professionally married...If you see another movie from us, you know its going to be MastersFX. I think we're going to go to one of those shows, and have all the practical pieces put onto our faces. We'll give people a chance to see it at another opportunity. Its really fun, and an excuse to put on prosthetics. Any chance to put on prosthetics is a chance we're going to take.
I think it worked better for the film...
Jen Soska: I'm glad you felt that! We have changed our answer. That is what we intended!
I like this idea that if we want to continue the experience of the movie, instead of a sequel, we go visit you guys wherever you may be, and we see you in your make-up.
Jen Soska: if we could do it like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and what they did with that show, and we could bring this to TV, there are a lot of stories that we didn't get to say. We would absolutely go and do more. For every character, we had a vast backstory. We're storytellers. We're obsessed. We know where they are going in the future, we know where they've been in the past, and what happens behind the scenes. Because the film follows Mary, and we never get to know anyone unless, and how, Mary gets to know them.