“So, are we, like, best friends, now that you’ve seen what’s in my freezer?”
May isn’t really a good movie. It’s not really all that interesting, either. But let’s see what we can make out of it, shall we?
The story concerns May Kennedy, a disturbed young woman who has severe trouble relating to others. Going back to a lonely childhood spent suffering from a lazy eye, May consistently finds people recoiling from her weirdness. She’s physically awkward; star Angela Bettis, who went on to play Carrie in the 2002 TV film version (so she knows from violent social outcasts), plays May with a self-consciousness that always seems to find her limbs at just the wrong angle. In body as in life, May is always askew–head turned away or oddly titled, strings of hair blocking part of her face, glasses too far down her nose. These are social barriers, erected unconsciously to try and hide herself from rejection; but they also mirror May’s odd perceptions, and probably explain why she finds herself so obsessed with other’s “parts” (a man’s hands, a woman’s neck, etc). She can’t relate to whole human beings, particularly on a sexual level, and so sublimates her desires into the one perfect piece in those she’s attracted to. The problem is that there is a whole person there, and the inevitable messiness of trying to have a real relationship leads to May crashing and burning. Do that enough, and anybody would get frustrated. “If you can’t find a friend, make one,” is the film’s motto, and May eventually follows suit.
It feels mean to harp too much on the movie’s problems. Some independent movies transcend their limitations. May doesn’t. The performances are generally not very good, the film’s budgetary limits are clear, and writer/director Lucky McKee doesn’t find a lot of clever ways around either of those problems. Even for a film this short (88 minutes), the pacing is pretty dire, and overall May feels a lot like a student or short film drawn out to feature length. It only really has a handful of beats that it returns to over and over again–May reaches out to someone, does something strange, gets rejected, and recedes deeper into a world of blood and stitching.
The repetition grates most when it comes to May’s male love interest, Adam (Jeremy Sisto of Law & Order, uh, fame). The key point in their relationship comes when, after a few scenes, Adam shows May a film he’s made. The short (which is actually not bad) is a surreal little number about a couple having a picnic in the park; a makeout session turns cannibalistic as the couple begin romantically biting off pieces of each other. May, who seems to have zero sexual experience, assumes that this is “sweet” and normal, and when she and Adam attempt to have sex later, she bites his lip badly and smears his blood over her body. Adam’s got a little bit of a weirdness to him (the first time she comes over to his place, he pretends to stab her with a trick knife), but this is way too far out for him, and he mumbles “I’ll see you around” on his way out the door. After that, there are approximately 35 scenes of May showing up on his doorstep, wanting to be around him but not knowing how to articulate that desire, or May calling him with nothing to say, and each time Adam seems just kind of nonplussed, unwilling to tell her not to contact him but also unwilling to give her another shot. It’s slow, turgid stuff that feels more like stalling or padding than anything else.
More interesting is the other relationship May finds herself in, with her friend and coworker, Polly. Unlike May, who’s so childish that at one point she volunteers at a pre-school to try and make friends with a little blind girl she met in the park, Polly is a real, relatively well-adjusted adult. She oozes sexuality (you wouldn’t believe how sensually she delivers the line “You want to watch me file?”) and eventually makes a pass at May, who seems to interpret the advance as a welcome brand of friendship and acceptance. But soon May discovers that Polly wasn’t exactly sincere when she promised to be “dead” serious about liking her, as Polly has casual sex with several different women. At the same time, May sees that Polly has some physical imperfections (a wart on her hand, a mole on her neck) and feels repulsed. Polly says, “My grandma said it’s imperfections that make you special,” while May nods blankly. Used to talking to a creepy doll with pale white skin in a glass case (a friend she’s not allowed to touch), May is only interested in perfection. And if she can’t find a perfect friend, she’ll make one.
At heart, May just isn’t special enough to be worth looking past its flaws. If you’re a horror fan, you’ve seen this kind of movie a dozen times, even if the female version is a little less common. A quietly deranged loner fails at connecting with other human beings and reacts violently. It’s Taxi Driver, it’s Psycho, it’s a hundred rip-offs and minor movies, even a few I’ve covered here in the past. What does May really bring to the table that’s unique? The film’s final scene actually does hit the nexus of creepy and touching that the movie has been trying to reach, but before that the tone often feels clunky or exaggerated. Sometimes the film’s symbolism is really strong–I particularly like the way May associates sex with smoking because both are adult activities–and other times it’s painfully on the nose (everything doll-related). The film’s technical aspects range from amateurish to competent-but-uninteresting, and I can’t help but feel that, even as character study, the movie’s protagonist leaves something to be desired. Ironically, she sometimes feels more like a collection of character traits sewn together haphazardly than a coherent human being. I want to like both May and her movie, but both girl and film are less than the sum of their parts, and the seams are showing.
Every year, Kyu attempts to watch and review 31 horror movies in 31 days. This year, it’s Killtoberfest 4: Four Gore and Severed Ears Ago, because the GOP made their own Frankenstein’s monster, and he’s got the mob on his side. Check out past Killtoberfests along with this year’s reviews, and be sure to follow us on Twitter @insidethekraken to track Kyu’s progress.