If Tim Burton made slasher movies he might make one like MAY. I only say might, because Lucky McKee’s fiercely original film is in a league of its own.
May Canady is the quintessential oddbod. We see her as a child: her lazy eye marks her out as an outsider from the off (other children reject her when they find out that her eye patch doesn’t mean that she’s a pirate). Unable to make friends, May’s mother tells her: “If you can’t find friends, make your own!”. Seemingly well meaning, but claustrophobically controlling, May’s mother gives her a doll, Suzy, for her birthday: cased inside a glass box, the little girl is given strict instructions not to remove her. Glass eyes glaring out from behind the glass, Suzy becomes May’s best friend; her only friend.
Fast forward several years, May has emerged from adolescence as an eccentric young woman, uneducated in the social etiquette of the world around her. Forced from the protective cocoon of childhood, she has to try and make her way in life. Working as a vet’s assistant, she appears to be adjusting to the conformist world around her; busying herself with the pursuit of the perfect boyfriend (she tells Suzy “I need a real friend, someone I can hold”). Her lazy eye and twitchy birdlike manner make this seemingly an impossibility. However, with new contact lens, she finds the confidence to pursue local mechanic, Adam (Jeremy Sisto), who May muses has perfect hands. At first, he doesn’t even notice her, but May follows him everywhere (not so much stalking initially as more puppy dog steps). Eventually, May’s eccentric demeanor charms him – her kooky ways seem to mirror his love of the weird (he made student films where two lovers literally eat each other at a picnic, and whose favourite film maker is Dario Argento). "I like weird," he says. "I like weird a lot."
Polly (Anna Farris), May’s lesbian work colleague is also intrigued by her eccentric ways - she watches May cutting her thumb with a scalpel, and asks her what she’s doing; May cuts Polly’s thumb (initially she’s shocked, but then admits she likes it and asks her to cut her a little more). May tells her she has a pretty neck.
May and Adam seem to be going well until – taking her cue from his student film – she bites his lip during lovemaking, and smears his blood all over her. Shocked (he liked the weird, but this goes beyond what he anticipated) he leaves her lying alone in her bed. May eventually seeks solace with Polly, who seduces her – but May is let down yet again when she comes back one morning to find her shacked up with a new lover (whose legs May admires before leaving).
All the while, as May feels rejected – and her sanity strings begin to snap – the glass case that houses Suzy slowly fractures (just like the rabbit rotting mirrors Catherine Deneuve’s descent into madness in Roman Polanski’s REPULSION (1965)). As you do, to try and stay back from the abyss, May volunteers to work with a group of blind kids, but this goes disastrously wrong when Suzy's case is smashed (and the last remnants of May’s sanity smash with it) during a show-and-tell (resulting in a truly remarkable, bloody scene of May and the children crawling on their hands and knees through a sea of broken glass).
When even her pet cat spurns her, and her best friend now doll parts, May decides – taking her Mother’s advice very much to heart – if you can’t find any true friends then make one: with decidedly bloody results.
Lucky McKee’s MAY is a slasher movie for the 21st century. Admittedly, the first ¾’s of the film is more akin to, say, quirky arthouse fare like WELCOME TO THE DOLLSHOUSE (1995) (ably backed by ace indie tunes from The Breeders and the Kelley Deal 6000), but once May finally jettisons her touch with reality and decides to make herself a new friend we are into familiar (although not too familiar) territory. Ironically, May’s mental instability results in a vampish alter-ego – all her quirks and ticks ironed out. She makes herself a Halloween costume (modeled on Suzy’s gothic look), takes a large empty suitcase and an arsenal of surgical equipment, and slinks out into the night in search of pieces to make the perfect friend …
Perhaps May has been hopelessly insane from the start. The people she comes into contact with just regard her as a harmless innocent, a charming eccentric – someone to add a bit of kooky spice to their lives – however, what they don’t realise is that they are satellites of normality circling a decidedly dark star. May just can’t see what’s she’s done wrong when she crosses boundaries (she thought Adam would like the lip biting as it was a similar thing to his film – clearly she is not able to separate fantasy from reality). It seems that all along she has been playing along at fitting in to society, but never actually belonging. When she cuts and hacks away at her former friends, her lack of empathy or sympathy for her victims is presented in such a way that she is never evil as such (even though her actions may be), she’s just a little girl on a mission to collect doll parts.
Angela Bettis gives a truly remarkable performance as the eponymous May. Although, I guess, she is the villain of the piece she is the classic ‘monster’: in-so-much that, maybe we don’t understand her, yet we still have a great deal of sympathy with her even when she’s doing all these horrible things. Jeremy Sisto (who went on to star in the update of the backwoods slasher, WRONG TURN (2003)) and Anna Farris (who appeared in LOVERS LANE (1999) as well the SCARY MOVIE series) both offer able support as her new friends who find themselves way out of their depth.
Ultimately, it is a testament to the talents of McKee and Bettis that as the film shifts inexorably from quirky comedy to jet black horror that it doesn’t jar.
For those looking to get their thrills from left of field, you could do far worse than this.
female:3 / male:2
1) Man shot then decapitated (off-screen)
2) Man shot then skinned (off-screen)
3) Female stabbed in the temples with scalpels
4) Female stabbed in the neck with scalpel
5) Male stabbed in the stomach with scalpel