From start to finish, I watched this film with my jaw dropped in disbelief. This is not an unusual reaction for me and it can mean many things. It can mean that I am witnessing the most spectacular pile of crap the world has ever known. It can mean, equally well, that I have just seen a person’s brain eaten in close-up, and I would rather not have. On rare occasions, it may be because the movie is, in fact, stunningly brilliant. But why did Lucky McKee’s May elicit such a reaction? Yes, it is gory (think blind children crawling over broken glass) and yes, it is brilliant. Most of all though, the film, like May herself, is weird. "I like weird," say two of the film’s (doomed) characters. You have no idea.
Forced to wear an eyepatch as a child, lazy-eyed May has few friends. In fact, her best and only friend is Suzy, a very creepy porcelain doll (is there any other kind?) made by her mother. As an adult, May gets through the night by making things with her sewing machine and talking to Suzy, yet she craves real friendship. She seeks it out, but quickly discovers that perfect hands or a beautiful neck do not make a friend. "So many pretty parts but no pretty wholes," she laments. When May sets about solving this problem, things get REALLY freaky.
May is consistently beautiful to watch; it's clever, funny and terrifying. Memorable images are almost too many to list. Particularly striking is the visual equation of Suzy with May’s spiralling insanity. Safely caged in a glass cabinet at the beginning of the film, Suzy seems to break out of her own accord as May is constantly let down by humanity. Dramatic points of the movie are punctuated by the nerve-wracking sound of the glass case slowly cracking, horribly apparent even when May has shut the doll in a cupboard to escape the sound. Watch out also for numerous tributes to Italian horror master Dario Argento. Adam, played by Jeremy Sisto, is a self-confessed fan who insists on seeing a screening of Trauma, has posters of Opera on his wall, and ends his own short film with the Italian "Regia di Adam Stubbs." Incidentally, keep an eye out for this little gem, which portrays a wholesome young couple cheerfully eating one another – no, not a euphemism.
It would do the film an injustice, however, to call it a tribute in itself. True, McKee is clearly no stranger to Argento’s movies and May shares their sense of elegant, stylised violence. Yet it also displays a knowing sense of humour, and its atmosphere is nothing if not unique. Grotesque murders are perpetrated to a backdrop of jaunty indie and swing music and (surely the film’s greatest triumph), May herself is a thoroughly sympathetic character. Yes, she may be murderously insane, but we love her. The people she disposes of, frankly, generally deserve it. Starved of love from childhood and kept from human contact all her life, there is a touching innocence about her actions. May is, in fact, so much the victim for most of the movie that when she finds her power and takes matters into her own hands, it’s hard not to be cheering her on.
May is a thoroughly enjoyable film that will have anyone with a soul smiling throughout (sometimes through fingers covering their face). Angela Bettis is stunning as the screwed-up heroine, managing to be adorable and creepy as hell in one breath. There is also little to be said against the portrayal of the galaxy of mean and/or annoying characters discovered by May. In fact, I struggle for anything to say against the film in general. Teen slasher movie fans may find May’s descent into madness a bit slow, but it is a delicious torture for the rest of us. There can be no doubt, however, that May is a unique experience, gruesome, funny, and most of all weird. But, then again, I like weird.