So for those unaware, I’ve decided to indulge my cravings for horror films that are have been building up for a while by dedicating the next 15 reviews or so to that genre. I have plenty of movie lineup, the first of which is director Lucky McKee’s mixup of oddball comedy and psychological horror May.
Released back in 2002 to a rather decent critical reception, May has attained more of a cult status over the years. I was introduced to this film by a good friend of mine, and we watched it together with other people, and that was a pretty good time. But having to watch the film again myself has actually help me really appreciate what McKee wanted to tell with this story.
Even though the film contains some rather violent imagery, a lot of the horror in this story is rooted in the concept of loneliness. Our central character May is very much disconnected from everyone else around her. Throughout the film, she desperately tries to make attachments to various characters (Who she associates through a particular body part she really likes) she meets. But because this character is very socially awkward and struggles to understand basic cues, we see just how mentally tormented Mary and the dark underbelly in this character that is just waiting to burst out in retaliation against the world she finds herself living against.
May as a story rises or falls on the actress and Angela Bettis nails the role. This character could run the risk of being unintentionally annoying just because of how awkward and weird the character gets. But, Bettis performance adds so much nuance and heart into May. It’s a performance that’s both equally charming, sympathetic, and terrifying once the fragile line of sanity starts breaking down. This is an actress who I’m amazed to see isn’t in bigger projects because her work seriously elevates the film beyond what could just be a standard slasher affair.
What I’d really respect how Lucky McKee chose to approach this film was that of a slow-burn approach. It’s easy to start out with our main character committing various acts of violence. Still, May wisely chooses to get the viewer invested in this character first by watching her do her day-to-day routine and just wanting her to find some semblance of human connection. There is a tragic undercurrent that runs throughout the film. It presents situations in which May’s life could have turned out very differently had certain events panned out differently than they do for the character.
But as much as May is a horror film, there is a consistent amount of quirky comedy that I found really worked. Mainly because of the interactions or observations May has about the world around her. She can watch a low-budget gory splash flash but will mainly focus her thoughts on this one little detail that she finds very unrealistic. It does a lot to make the character endearing while not getting too much in the way of the film’s darker moments.
Ironically, for a film centered on May’s oddball nature, most of the supporting cast isn’t too far behind on the weird factor. The potential love interest, for instance, likes to make the aforementioned gorefests, and the friend May ends up making at her workplace is very interested in her quirky traits. Initially, I thought the contrast between May and everyone else around her would benefit if they were more grounded. Still, it can also be argued the film is commenting on the hypocrisy in how certain characters would indulge in their weird interests. Still, May gets shunned when she wants to express herself and commits the tragic crime of just being too different.
Though as lively as May makes for a central character and her inner turmoil very compelling, I can see how someone could watch this film not knowing anything and be initially confused as to the point of the film. And because of how cheerful this film likes to indulge in just how weird it gets, that could end up being a turn-off for those who can’t connect with the narrative. Those willing to embrace the film’s oddities will find themself pleased by a bloody third act that follows through on the mayhem that’s been slowly reaching towards. And while the ending runs the risk of being too cheesy, it finds the right balance of fitting within the film’s quirky personality while ending May’s arc on a fittingly tragic note.
I’m happy that I decided to have this second viewing because it gave me the chance to really take everything about the story May wants to tell. It really has everything that has the makings for a cult classic. A fascinating lead character wonderfully portrayed by the overlooked Angela Bettis and a delightful mix of fun comedy, gore, and utter sadness makes this a perfect start to my horror movie marathon.