It seems like newcomers are making all the strides in the horror genre lately. Most of the best recent horror movies – from The Blair Witch Project to Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses - have been directed by new filmmakers. Perhaps being unspoiled by the film industry has made these writer/directors unafraid to be daring in the way they tell their stories. May marks the feature debut of Lucky McKee. Remember that name. This is a filmmaker with real potential. May is a dazzling debut; it’s one of the eeriest, most outright disturbing, and undeniably well-crafted horror movies of recent years.
Angela Bettis plays the title character. A flashback tells us some things about May’s childhood: she was rejected by peers due to her lazy eye, so her uptight mother gave her a doll for companionship. (“If you can’t find any friends, make one of your own,” is her mother’s advice.) Despite this, May’s mother kept the doll in a glass box and refused to let her daughter actually play with it.
As a young woman, May is quiet and kind of geeky. She has no friends. She is socially isolated. May still has the doll, which she talks to on a regular basis. She also believes that her “friend” talks back to her. One day, May sets her sights on Adam (Jeremy Sisto), a guy she sees around the way. She is attracted to him, especially his hands, which have a weird fetish value for her. May orchestrates a “chance encounter” with Adam and they strike up a conversation. They soon bump into each other again. Adam has no idea that May is really following him around. Eventually, he kind of makes a move. May is happy, but also insecure. “I know I’m weird,” she says. “I like weird,” is Adam’s reply. “I like weird a lot.”
That’s a great line of dialogue, one that sums up the character perfectly. He’s not necessarily an ordinary guy. He’s a little bit left of center himself. Because of this, he responds to May’s uniqueness. There’s a great scene in which the horror movie-obsessed Adam shows May a gory short film he made. As the film grows more and more bloody, she moves closer and closer to him until she’s practically in his lap. He asks what she thinks of the film. Her response is at first funny, then really creepy as you think about it.
May ultimately pushes the edge too far, proving to be a little “too weird.” She thinks her behavior will attract Adam more, but it has the opposite effect. Someone with her lack of social awareness can’t understand this, so devastation sets in. She consults the doll for advice, with chilling results.
I think I’m going to stop there. Revealing too much more of the plot wouldn’t be fair, especially since it doesn’t go exactly how you might expect. One of the good things about May is that the way the plot resolves itself is rather unexpected. You get a feeling of deep dread because you know this girl is going to do something. What she actually does begins almost passive-aggressively before becoming full-tilt scary.
The most interesting thing about the film is that it doesn’t portray May as some wacked-out psycho killer. She is a sad, lonely, disturbed young woman. Her intentions are basically good: she wants to make friends, to love and be loved. She wants the real-life companionship no one could ever give her. The doll is no longer a substitute for someone real. Because she’s so emotionally damaged (and socially retarded), May is driven to desperate ends. She’s not unlike the character Robin Williams played in One Hour Photo, although she is ultimately more destructive.
For this movie to work, you must absolutely believe the title character. The sad truth about May is that not enough people will see it, and therefore Angela Bettis will not get the Oscar nomination she deserves. That’s a real shame because this is as true and authentic a performance as I’m likely to see all year. The actress so fully inhabits this character that she seems real. Most of us won’t be able to relate to what May does, but can we relate to the feelings that drive her actions? Ah, yes, I believe most of us can at some level.
Jeremy Sisto is also perfectly cast. He shows an ability to fill out an entire character from a few simple sketches. We quickly come to identify the kind of guy Adam is: he’s a non-conformist and proud of it. He probably defines himself by his individuality. Sisto really brings that out. Having just seen the actor in the dreadful Wrong Turn, I was ready to write him off. This movie allows him to do more, and his talent comes through.
May is not an easy film to watch. What happens is very disturbing. I see a lot of horror movies over the course of each year. Few of them leave me as totally rattled as this one did. But again, it’s not what May does that’s unnerving. It’s what she thinks she’s accomplishing. This poor misguided soul acts solely out of a desire for affection, not necessarily out of a desire to hurt anyone. The movie’s last scene proves to be the most unforgettable. In that last shot, everything becomes clear. We understand completely why May behaved as she did; furthermore, we understand the strange kind of comfort her actions bring her. The last shot is both oddly sympathetic and wholly shocking. Not many horror movies can dig below the surface like that, but May does, and for that reason it deserves to be seen.
( 1/2 out of four)
May is rated R for some sexuality, graphic violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.
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