The Blog Lagoon’s 31 Days of Halloween – Day 21: May (Reviewed)

May (Angela Bettis) has got a little something in her eye.

May (Angela Bettis) has got a little something in her eye.

MAY (2002)
When people talk about the current sad state of horror movies I like to point them in the direction of movies like May.

When it was originally released, May was dismissed by many critics as yet another riff on Stephen King’s Carrie and while the two stories do have a lot in common (misunderstood outsider wreaks havoc), May is in many ways much smarter, more twisted and unfailingly inventive by comparison. Angela Bettis is the title character, a 20-something veterinarian’s assistant with a penchant for the morbid. May is more than a little off and obsessed with beauty and perfection — a neurosis, we learn early, picked up as a child from a perfectionist mother, who supplied May with her one and only friend, a creepy, blank-faced porcelain doll encased in glass.  When confidence finds May in the form of corrective contact lenses she steps out of her insular world to take a chance on love, by awkwardly flirting with an artsy filmmaker (Jeremy Sisto) she meets at a cafe. At first he finds her a charmingly adorable misfit, but it doesn’t take long for May to inadvertently reveal her dark side (by nearly biting his lips off during a maiden make-out session!). Rejection does not suit May and, prodded on by her doll friend, she begins to gradually slip off the deep end. May can’t help herself from fixating on the “perfect” parts of people who come into her life. Whether it’s her would-be boyfriend’s perfect hands, or the elegant neck of a bi-curious co-worker (played by a scene-stealing Anna Faris), May can’t stop obsessively gazing at, coveting, touching and then eventually stealing the parts she deems perfect. For May, we learn, the perfection is always in the parts because the whole person always disappoints.

May is not a typical horror movie, but when the horror kicks in, it temporarily takes over. There are some twisted moments, especially in the film’s second half, that are as about as wince-inducing as anything I’ve ever seen in any gore-obsessed shockers. Some of the oogiest moments revolve around ocular trauma that easily tops Zombie‘s splinter-in-the-eye scene. (Believe it or not, I’m not even referring to the scene in the image above.) But the gross-outs come well-earned and never feel cheap or at the expense of the story.

Better yet, May is darkly hilarious in many places and it’s a credit to Bettis’ performance that she’s able to portray May as a quasi protagonist. You’re with her (almost) all of the way because she plays May as a true outcast who can’t really be blamed for her behavior because she simply doesn’t know how to relate to other human beings. She’s goofy and quirky and above all else, true to herself in a way that’s almost admirable. Even once blood begins to spill, you still find yourself rooting for May and hoping she’s able to carve some kinda’ happiness out of the mess she’s making. In the hands of another actress, May might have come off as a grown-up Wednesday Addams — a sinister goth girl who’s far too sexy to sympathize with. But as portrayed by Bettis, May is cute, and can be charming, but is also pitiable, screwed-up and not the type of girl you want to spend time getting too close to. It makes sense that May can’t connect with others. And when she can’t make friends, May knows it’s up to her to make her own…in the most literal sense possible. (Dun-dun-dunnnn!)

It all boils to a real corker of a finale that could make or break your perception of the movie as a whole. It worked for me and I would definitely log it as one of the most unexpected and bizarre conclusions I’ve ever seen in a horror movie. But even if you don’t buy the story’s wrap up there’s still a ton of macabre fun to be found in May.

May‘s writer and director, Lucky McKee, is great at balancing dark comedy and grim shocks. He’d direct Bettis again in his entry in Showtime’s Masters of Horror series, Sick Girl (also worth a look) and did an admirable job with his follow-up feature–the lesser, but still worthwhile girls’-school/witch-coven flick, The Woods (recommended with mild reservations). In addition to pulling great performances from a less-than-A-list cast, the man knows how to put together a soundtrack. May‘s is packed with great songs by Kim and Kelly Deal which contribute a helluva lot of mood to what I consider to be a  moody masterwork.

Halloween is the perfect time to discover May if you’re looking for something a little different. Many of its pivotal scenes take place during the Halloween season and if you’re like me, you can appreciate a holiday just a little bit more when it’s being shared with characters in a movie. (Did anyone else love watching Gremlins at Christmastime when they were a kid?)

Interesting side-note, with regard to comparisons to Carrie: Bettis played the title role in the unneccessary made-for-TV remake that aired the same year as May‘s release. Not even Bettis can do much to save that ill-conceived  bore.
***

Watch the trailer for May:

~ by Number5ive on October 21, 2009.

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