Director Lucky McKee, serves up a chilling variation on the disaffected teenage loner turned psycho theme with MAY. Unfortunately, like the majority of independent features, this one received scant theatrical release in the USA, despite thrilling audiences at its premiere at Sundance 2002 – where Lions Gate Films wisely picked it up for worldwide distribution – and winning awards for McKee at Sitges 2002 (Best Script) and Angela Bettis (Best Actress) for one of the most captivating and convincing performances in a horror film for some time.
McKee’s script concerns lonely teen May Canady (Bettis) a shy young woman, ostracised as a child due to strabismic amblyopia in one eye, the effects of which she hides with the aid of an eye-patch. Isolation has resulted in May lacking social graces and developing angst-ridden habits that include cutting herself with scalpel blades, lifted from the surgery where she works as a veterinary assistant, and keeping company with her best friend; a creepy, antique doll named Suzy, a birthday gift given to May as a child by her equally estranged mother, who advises her “If you need a friend, make one”.
Suzy peers out from within her ornate glass case; (a metaphor for May’s fragile mind and isolation from society and which, in effect, protects her from going insane), and looking like a cross between the Zuni fetish doll from TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975) and one of Glonek and Long’s ‘Living Dead Doll’ toys. It’s obvious that Suzy’s presence has a pronounced effect on the way in which May views those around her. To May, Suzy represents perfection; her smooth ivory hands, finely sculpted legs, long shiny hair, and bright blue eyes are a stark contrast to May’s gawky appearance. One day, May spies mechanic, Adam Stubbs (Jeremy Sisto) – her perfect man, and decides to transform herself into the living embodiment of Suzy in order to win his affection. She begins making new dresses by patching together remnants of old fabrics that resemble Suzy’s Victorian vogue, undergoes corrective eye treatment, and wears contact lenses that improve the appearance of her lazy eye. As her confidence grows she strikes up a friendship with a nymphomaniac, lesbian co-worker, Polly (Anna Faris) who May introduces to the “joys” of self-cutting, (and whom no doubt will now become an icon for every bisexual/lesbian ‘Goth Girl’ who has ever entertained the idea of self masochism).
May takes to stalking Adam in an attempt to capture his attention. By now she’s starting to look fairly cute, so when Adam glimpses her bending over in tight jeans in the local launderette he decides to introduce himself. May is fascinated by his strong, smooth hands, and takes every opportunity to hold them. They visit his home where Adam reveals that he is an amateur filmmaker with Argento aspirations. The couple watch a pretty gruesome black and white underground short he has put together entitled “Jack and Jill”, (actually directed by Chris Sivertson), in which a loving couple delight in self-mutilation. To Adam’s amusement May seems to find the film a turn-on, as she’s grown somewhat desensitised to gore via years spent operating on animals, and hours spent cutting herself.
The couple make love but when May bites Adams lip, thinking it will turn him on, he dumps her. Upset, May turns to her only other real friend, Polly, but is perturbed to find she has taken a tall, blonde ‘Barbie-girl’ lover.
May decides to volunteer as a helper at a school for blind children, (with whom she shares some affinity), and takes along her doll Suzy. In their excitement the kids rush to embrace the doll in its glass case and it shatters, resulting in a disturbing sequence in which the bloodied, blind kids crawl amongst the broken shards). ‘Suzy’ is broken in the ensuing chaos and, as a result, the distressed and mentally unbalanced May decides to take Mom’s advice and build herself a beautiful "friend" from the body parts of people around her.
This acutely observed film is a true delight; the violence when it arrives is pretty gory and shocking due to the finely developed characterisations, and several performances that bring credibility to this study of suburban misfits. McKee is equally at home with his handling of pitch-black humour that sits comfortably besides the moments of horror.
Mention must also go to a thoroughly complementive score by Jaye Barnes-Luckett, and additional soundtrack that includes both grunge-punk and dark wave goth to equal effect. The film’s editing may be a little slack in parts, but the film is high on atmospherics, and is worth seeing for Angela Bettis’s performance alone.
Whilst MAY isn’t the first film to present us with an angst ridden misfit with a Frankenstein obsession, (see Tom Moore’s HORROR HIGH (1974), Juan Piquer Simón’s PIECES (1980), and Wes Craven’s DEADLY FRIEND (1986), the subject is taken seriously for once, and contains thematics explored in Tim Blake Nelson’s EYE OF GOD (1997). As it stands, MAY is a far-cry from the director’s earlier splatter-comedy fest ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE (1999), and will no doubt find its audience when released onto DVD/VHS in Summer 2003.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Lucky McKee
USA / 2002 / 93 minutes.
DVD Special Features
Region 1. NTSC. Dolby Digital Stereo