Behind the jet black hair, pointed features and tight, matching sleeveless T-shirts, Jennifer and Sylvia Soska are part of a new breed of independent, intelligent Canadian filmmakers pushing at the bounadries of genre expectation. "Mary" is part of a long line of thoughtful-yet-visceral Canadian movies that fall broadly under the horror genre, a line that draws straight from Cronenberg himself.
Jen, with her slightly raspier, lower-pitched voice, begins the conversation with a mixture of politeness and crudeness that's definitively Canadian: "Do you mind us cussing? Or should we mind our Fs and Cs?"
When I suggest that the film's themes felt almost autographical, Sylvia agrees. "It's a strange experience, because I am a very private person, so to make a film that's reflective of our own lives, and our own struggles, is a very weird, naked feeling. There are people that know me and think, 'Oh my God, that's exactly like you!', and I say [in an unconvincing tone] no, no, that's all a made-up and fantasy!"
The goal of their work seems simple yet profound: "I wanted it so that people who're weird like Jennifer and I to feel that they're less weird. People with split tongues are people too!"
The lead part was written for Katherine Isabelle, an actress Jennifer describes as "the thinking woman's scream queen." Isabelle came to horror fans' attention a decade ago with another genre film with big ideas, the coming-of-age werewolf classic "Ginger Snaps."
I ask whether there's a challenge convincing people to see a film that they might be intimidated by, both in terms of the subject matter and the unconventional style of the twins themselves: "'American Mary' is a horror movie that you don't have to look away from" argues Sylvia. "We made the film for my mom! When you're at that really tense moment and think you have to look away, I challenge you to keep watching!"
Jennifer is somewhat more philosophical about the challenge: "Horror is synonymous with crap now. They shoot it like porn -- as long as you get the breasts and the blood there's not that much in there. What I liked about horror growing up is that it had a philosophy. Yes, we go to fantastical places, but we talk about very real issues."
And what are those issues that "American Mary" tackles? "Believe it or not, it's about working woman's struggles in a male-dominated work field, it's about acceptance for who you are despite individual characteristics of what your aesthetic is. It's about the recession, and it's about radical feminism."
Jennifer admits to being "unsure whether that makes for a fun movie." The film has the ambition of being a "character piece about flawed characters trying to make it in today's world." Still, there were challenges early on. "When we were trying to pitch it, people were saying, 'body modification, that's disgusting!' People who aren't going to get it aren't going to get it, but people who do get it are going to appreciate that it wasn't shoved down their throats. It ends with questions, it doesn't tell you what to think."
"We joke that I'm the Joss Whedon, and she's the Lars Von Trier," says Jen. "I put the heart in, and she rips it out, rapes it, and puts a cigarette out in it." Regardless, arguments couldn't fester with such a tight schedule. "We shot for fifteen days," Jennifer explains, "So we had no time to even have a discussion. If we honestly couldn't agree, it was just OK, you have your [expletive] way, but that's just on this one!"
Are the arguments are always about the film? Have they really moved beyond any sibling friction? "We decided a long time ago that work is first, each other is second, and everything that other people put first is third -- family, our health, religion, our country. There's no time for ego, if it's best for the film, that's what you have to do."
Now that they've developed a devoted following, are the twins locked into doing horror films for the rest of their career? "I don't think our love affair with horror is going to end," Sylvia admits. However, "We thought 'Dead Hooker In The Trunk' was a road movie, and we thought 'American Mary' was a romantic comedy about a working woman."
For Sylvia, it comes down to this: "I want to mix it up, make completely different subgenres. Jennifer and I started with horror movies when we were 10, so we're working on a film that's PG, so that kids can watch it. An intelligent one, so that it's not talking down to them." "I get all verklempt and teary," Sylvia comically sniffles when talking about their legions of young fans, "It's horrible for my image. I'm supposed to be scary!"
"American Mary" is screening in theatres and will be available on DVD in Canada on June 18.