May
Grade: A
Year: 2003
Director: Lucky McKee
Writer: Lucky McKee
Genre: Horror
Rated: R
By Scott Spicciati

When you have a lazy eye growing up as a child that can only be treated with an enormous eye patch , you can expect to have few friends. When your mother gives you a doll she crafted herself that looks like Marilyn Manson--without eyes--and tells you, "This will be your best friend!" you can expect to be a very disturbed person as you enter adulthood.

Alas, we meet May, a shy and timid 20-something-year-old who is peculiarly attractive underneath her skinny frame and artificial smile. She lives alone in a small apartment. Wait, I take that back. She lives with her doll collection, dozens of dolls that are neatly organized on her shelves, while some have their parts obligatorily scattered along the bedroom floor. She still has that hellish doll her mother gave her as a child and it's still her best friend. The doll is kept in a protective glass box and has never been taken out because she's "special."

May is expertly played by Angela Bettis who did not have an easy part to play. The entire first half of the film is dedicated to her character development. Everything from her past upbringing to the idiosyncrasies that her shyness could never allow her to recover from are present in this stage of her life. Whereas a lesser movie would have her character be the narrator, "May" forces May to sell herself without dialogue. Solely through her actions do we see how true it is that she lacks the social experiences thanks to her isolated childhood.

When she finally obtains a pair of corrective contacts that correct fixes her lazy eye, May experiences a rush (albeit slight) of confidence and decides it's time to go boy-hunting. She runs into a guy named Adam (Jeremy Sisto), a good-lucking car mechanic who is attracted to her in return. May has never had a boyfriend before, nor has she ever even kissed someone, and immediately confesses: I'm weird." "I like weird," Adam shoots back. "I like weird a lot."

And we know he does because he's loyal to the legendary Italian horror filmmaker, Dario Argento. Adam refuses to pass up on a screening of "Trauma," but hooks up with May at a later date to show her the student film he created before dropping out of college. It's a black-and-white short about a young couple who picnic in the park and things quickly get strange. I could go on describing but must let you experience it for yourself.

It takes Adam awhile to learn that May is weirder than him, much weirder. It eventually gets to a point where he has no choice but to end the relationship, but that only sends her on a downward spiral to the brink of madness. Her vulnerability does not allow her to accept rejection. Her co-worker at the animal clinic is an attractive girl named Polly (Anna Faris), a lesbian who is always looking to do new things. We know May is not a lesbian, but her desire to be accepted is what brings her close to her adventurous co-worker. But May doesn't understand that Polly is not into commitment, and again May is left without an exclusive lover. She is without someone she can call her friend, other than that doll of course.

"May" is a horror film but you couldn't guess that by my review, so far, and that is how the movie plays out. Writer/Director Lucky McKee depended on a lost element to effective horror; time. Instead of going for the quick scares as soon as the lights dim, Lucky starts off with a drama, and nothing more intense. The horror eventually comes, but at such a slow pace that we're not exactly ready for it. We get comfortable with the characters, and get tense when someone's life is in jeopardy.

The scene layout in "May" is mostly melancholy in tone, but eventually progress to comedy, and then goes back and forth for awhile. But soon May is in front of a class of blind children and then the scenes get disturbing. Jaye Barnes-Luckett's haunting score kicks in and the audience begins to squirm in their seats. The parallel between May's transcending madness and the movie's tone is brilliant. A young female who sat next to me at the movie's screening walked out in disgust, and that was before the film got brutal.

Patrons were horrified even before the killing began. That is how you know a horror movie is truly effective. When the audience is completely lost for words in the last scene, and they know it's just going to end without an explanation, and they yell at the screen, "NO!" "It can't just end like that!" it is at that moment you know a horror movie is truly effective.

Scary? This movie isn't designed to scare, but you will gawk at the screen when you see May notice the pair of scissors on the table, or when she stashes the surgical knives in her backpack. You'll wince when you hear a character foolishly says to May, "I know you won't hurt me. I trust you." Because these characters are human, and because we can almost associate them to the real world in a way we never could with slasher-genre characters, their tragic ending has a lasting effect on us.

The final scene is a shocker, and it is so out-there that to have predicted it meant getting a sneak peek at the screenplay before viewing. It ends abruptly; without any explanations, and best of all the audience knew it was coming. And when it does, we laugh it off (as it was meant to be) and thank Lucky McKee for a truly powerful psychological thriller.

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Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. Contact Editor: Scott Spicciati