|May, 2002. Directed by Lucky McKee. Angela Bettis,
Jeremy Sisto, Anna Farris.
Synopsis: May Canaday has had an unhappy childhood. Ostracized by her peers because of particularly bad case of lazy eye, May finds her only friendship with a doll her mother gives her, a doll she is forbidden from removing from it's glass case. When May grows up, she is an introverted loner who works as a veterinary assistant. But even introverted loners long for love, and so does May. The object of her affection is a young filmmaker named Adam who confides to May that he "likes weird." To May, this sounds heaven sent. She likes weird, too, and regales Adam with tales of her job. The expression on his face tells a tale that May can't read. May reveals the depths of her own brand of weird after Adam shows her his short film, when she bites his lip and smears the blood from the wound over her face. Adam gives May the brush off. "But you like weird," May says to him. "Not THAT weird," he replies. Devastated, May finds solace in the arms of Polly, the ditzy lesbian she works with. Unfortunately, Polly is too much of a free spirit for May, a promiscuous free spirit who flits from partner to partner. This sends May over the edge. There are so many good parts to people, she thinks, but no totally good people. May's mother once told her that "if you don't have any friends, make some." May takes her mother at her words....
Performances: Angela Bettis is an actress to watch. Her performance in this movie would be Oscar caliber in a movie made for a studio with more marketing muscle than Lion's Gate. She's note-perfect as May. The other two major characters are filled by adequate actors. Jeremy Sisto is pretty good as Adam, but Anna Farris is out of her depth as Polly. She's cute and ditzy, but she's not in Angela Bettis's league when it comes to delivering a rounded performance. On the other hand, neither of these characters is really intended as a fully rounded character. We see them through May's eyes. It's May's movie--Angela Bettis's movie, as it were. First-time writer/director Lucky McKee knows how to turn the screws tight. Even in the early scenes of May's childhood, McKee's shot compositions and editing choices are wonderfully creepy. He understands the symbolic power of certain objects, most notably dolls and eyes, and he knows when enough is enough and when over-the-top is over-the-top. The film's direction walks a razor's edge between black comedy, indie angst, and high camp horror. That it never falls off that razor's edge is a minor miracle.
Geek Love: May is ostensibly a horror movie, but I can't see this film being embraced by an audience of teen-aged gore hounds. Oh, it delivers the goods a horror movie is supposed to deliver. It has a baroque setpiece at the end that is sure to satisfy even the most jaded teen-aged sadist, but this set piece comes after a long first two acts in which the film gets under the viewer's skin in a much more subtle and much more alarming manner. May's spiritual sister is Carrie White (a role played by Angela Bettis for the television remake of Carrie), a downtroden, lonely girl whose anger at her own heartbreak turns apocalyptic. May's concerns are the concerns of a lonely woman. Her dementia is a particularly feminine dementia. May's horrors are the horrors of relationships, not of carnage. Watching these horrors unfold is immensely more unsettling than the film's bloodstained denoument. After watching May's disastrous last date with Adam, the dismemberments of the last quarter of the movie are almost a relief. Almost. The ending of the film, the very last shot, pushes the film out of the realm of the hysterical psychoses of a Repulsion or a Heavenly Creatures and into the realm of the fairy tale. A ghastly, haunting fairy tale, as it so happens.
The last shot is sure to be debated for a long time by fans of the horror movie, but the film provides several other indelible images. The film opens with a flash-forward that infects all of the mundane events of the early parts of the film with a hint of menace and impending doom. It also promises a ghastly injury to the eye scene that the movie makes good on in spades. I don't flinch much at horror movies, but this scene got to me. But the film's best sequence involves a broken glass cabinet and a class full of blind children. When I was watching this scene unfold, my jaw was open wide. I couldn't believe I was seeing this scene. I couldn't believe that there was a filmmaker still working in the genre with the balls to stage such a scene. May is a transgressive horror movie the likes of which hasn't been seen in a long, long time...