When I was in Florida for my FSU interview, I talked to a lot of people about a lot of movies. I didn’t agree with most of them (I think I was the only girl in the room who actually liked Crash, for instance) but I did enjoy talking to my shuttle driver, who not only gave me a sign that she had planned to hold up in the airport over her head (it was a drawing of a boom box with my name in it) she also told me that if I loved horror movies, I absolutely had to watch May. Six months or so later, May popped up on my FEARnet.
It is, without doubt, easily the most disturbing movie I’ve seen all year.
*Spoilers are at the end of the review in the blatantly obvious Spoiler Section.*
I didn’t know a lot about May until I read the summary given by FEARnet (which I’ll post in that handy Spoiler Section) but I kind of wish I hadn’t seen it. The summary, that is, not the movie. I mean, the little plot description did its job. It definitely qualified as a hook for the movie, and I suppose it didn’t reveal anything that I wouldn’t have figured out on my own, but . . . still, I kind of wish I had been the given the opportunity to try and make those connections on my own.
That being said . . . May is about a young woman (yes, named May) who’s nice and sweet and more than a little mentally disturbed. I mean, the girl’s not well. Some of this, of course, can be attributed to Mom, who’s clearly not a big bucket of sanity herself . . . she’s one of those scary, obsessive mothers who’s more interested in “perfecting” her daughter than, you know, taking care of her. May’s mom gives May a CAD (Creepy Ass Doll) that must always stay in the box because it’s “special.” CAD, otherwise known as Susie, becomes May’s best friend.
Anyway, grown-up May (Angela Bettis) desperately wants love and friendship from, you know, live people, and the first half of May is devoted to her awkward and painful attempts to make connections in the real world. The second half of May is about what happens when these connections inevitably fail. Like I said before, I won’t go into too much detail about what May actually decides to do, but, well . . . it is a horror movie, and let’s just say that May doesn’t really deal with rejection all that well.
May is mildly painful to watch, at least for that first half. I have this thing where I feel profoundly embarrassed for characters . . . I can watch tendon-slicing and brain munching and general evisceration until I’m blue in the face, but watching the girl who says incredibly stupid things because she’s nervous around a guy, or the dude who manages (through a string of inexplicable and ridiculous events) to somehow become naked in front of the girl of his dreams, her parents, her grandparents, and a friendly priest for good measure . . . these things make me try to melt into the couch and die. In other words, horror is easy. It’s comedy I have to watch through my fingers.
May isn’t a comedy (although there are some fantastically funny lines in the film) but watching May try and fail to catch Perfect Adam’s attention in the beginning of the movie, or her subtle-as-a-jackhammer-to-the-face flirting techniques, or pretty much any scene with any kind of social interaction . . . it’s just really hard to watch, partially due to my own said embarrassment issues, partially due to being able to relate, at least somewhat, to the stupid ass shit you will do in hopes that a guy will somehow find these things sexy or mysterious or alluring instead of just wondering if you have possible brain damage. Like, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. That fucking movie, I swear to God. You’ve got pretty, perfect Amy Szalinski dancing around with a mop, singing as one does when you’re stuck cleaning up the kitchen, and of course Russ spies her through the window and is entranced by her beauty and her vitality and her spunk and her perfection . . . which makes you think, hey, I like to blast my music while washing the dishes. Maybe I should leave open the window so that my Soul Mate Ex Machina can walk by and see my free-spirited and intoxicating personality . . . which, of course, is a TERRIBLE idea if you 1) have no dance moves, 2) can’t sing worth a damn, and 3) don’t actually look like Amy Szalinski with her perfect, blonde, sexy-flip hair. And yet, to this day, this is a fantasy I indulge in. Godamn you, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. Godamn you.
Ahem. Back to May.
Despite my eagerness for the embarrassment to end and the gore to begin, I think May is nicely paced, slowly building May’s crazy while working in bits of foreshadow here and there. The foreshadowing isn’t always terribly subtle, but it’s better than a certain back-story you’ll find in Hostel, anyway, and it does give the film a kind of layered effect. On the whole, I found the movie clever, funny, twisted, and sad, and I think it was well worth watching.
1. It’s apropos of nothing, but FEARnet is awesome about giving me free horror films to watch and enjoy. They are, sadly, less awesome about throwing in annoying advertisements for movies at the bottom of the screen. I thought about catching up on other horror movies that I haven’t seen yet, but watching Ju-on with subtitles might not be the smart move here. Plus, the advertisements? They’re for freaking Inception! Don’t get me wrong, I liked Inception, but on FEARnet? Seriously? WTF?
2. Now, as far as the movie itself is actually concerned: Angela Bettis as May might be the glue that holds the film together. She’s pitch-perfect at portraying a character who’s sweet and awkward and all types of creepy—you want to pet May and then very quickly run away from her. That’s important to the film—if she wasn’t psychotic from the get-go, this would just be another revenge-of-the-unpopular kids movie (which is fine, but you know, I’ve already seen Carrie) and if you didn’t honestly feel sorry for her, then the movie would have no emotional depth. A bad actress could have really killed this movie, but Bettis really becomes May, and the film works because of it.
3. Other main players in the film: Jeremy Sisto as Adam and Anna Faris as Polly. Let’s talk Sisto first. He’s . . . okay. I don’t dislike Jeremy Sisto, but he’s one of those actors that’s kind of always Jeremy Sisto to me, I guess? Like, in Clueless, he’s Jeremy Sisto being shallow, and in Waitress, he’s Jeremy Sisto being an asshole, and in Six Feet Under, he’s Jeremy Sisto being massively fucked up . . . but I never forget that he’s Jeremy Sisto. Does that make sense?
Here’s a way to think of it: I first saw Dule Hill in The West Wing, and I loved him. When I started watching him in Psych, I was like, “Look, it’s Charlie!” But after awhile, he stopped being Charlie for me and started being Gus. Of course, I know his real name’s Dule Hill, and I don’t forget that, but the next show or movie I see him in, I’ll think, “Look, it’s Gus!” not “Hey, it’s Dule again.” There are actors who become their characters, I think, and actors who don’t. Sisto doesn’t, at least not for me. Although, now I feel a little bad for knocking the guy—I mean, I don’t think he’s a super bad actor or anything—and thus feel obliged to point out that my favorite role of his is in Wrong Turn. I wouldn’t call Wrong Turn a great movie by any means, but it was fun to mock, and he was enjoyable in it.
4. Before I move away from the Sisto, though, I must talk about his character, Adam. According to May, Adam is perfect. According to Adam, no one is perfect. Adam is correct. I don’t find Adam terribly likeable. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to. He’s not awful, I guess, even if he uses a switchblade to slice open his sandwiches . . . like, yes, Adam, I get it. You’re a fucking rebel; move on. More importantly, though, Adam’s kind of stupid.
See, Adam likes weird, and thus he is attracted to or at least intrigued by May. This I can, at least partially, understand: I’m attracted to weird too, and have, in the past, been into a guy who was committed at a mental hospital . . . mostly because he was at a mental hospital, if I’m being honest. Give me a break, here; at 16 and in Middletown, crazy sounds like a welcome and slightly dangerous change from your stereotypical Kurt and Rams of the world. Not that this boy looked anything like Christian Slater. This is a lie that all movies cruelly sell you. Know the truth, misfit adolescent girls: there will never be a boy at your school who looks anything like this:
Anyway, weird I get. That being said, when people speak of animals who manage to rip apart their shoddy stitches and lose their internal organs all over the floor like an exploded piñata, said people should not have a dreamy, blissful smile on their face. This is not the good kind of weird. This is the very bad kind of weird, and Adam should learn to read the fucking signs before an hour of the film has gone by.
5. And now—no, no. I’m sorry. I can’t move past this. How simple can I make this for you, Sisto? DO NOT APPROACH PEOPLE WHO MOLEST YOUR HAND WITH THEIR FACE! Is that really so difficult to understand?
6. Okay, finally: Anna Faris. The only thing I really remember Faris from is Scary Movie, naturally. This role is about as far from Cindy Campbell as you can get, and I think she’s pretty good as Polly, May’s slutty, lesbian co-worker. I’m not sure how I felt about Polly herself, though . . . her whole character seemed kind of off to me, I guess. Without going into spoilers, it’s hard to narrow down a reason why, but I don’t think it was anything Anna Faris did wrong. Actually, Faris had a couple of moments that I really liked. I think she helped humanize Polly as a person instead of, well, a slutty, lesbian co-worker.
The best moment I can think of without giving away too much is this: Polly has this kind of ugly ass mole on her hand. May asks if she’s ever thought about having it removed. Polly, who’s not exactly the naïve young schoolgirl type, says something like, “My Grandma said it’s the imperfections that make you special.” She delivers the line perfectly sincere and almost kind of bewildered, as though it has never occurred to her that someone might have lied in order to spare her feelings. Insecure now, Polly asks what May thinks of Grandma’s sweet sentiment, and May kind of just shrugs and walks off, clearly thinking Grandma’s sweet sentiment is really a pile of sweet shit. (The moment also works really well as a contrast between how Polly and May see beauty: Polly had an awesome grandmother and thus sees most physical imperfections as beautiful, whereas May, who grew up with a both a psycho mother and an eye patch to correct her lazy eye, instantly equates any deviance from normality as ugliness.)
7. But speaking of physical imperfections, Anna Faris: dye your godamned hair back to brown, please. It looks so much better in this movie than the blonde you usually sport.
8. There are a lot of good quotes in May, but here’s the best one: after May watches Adam’s short film about two lovers who eat each other . . . like, literally . . . May turns to Adam and says, very sincerely, “It was sweet . . . I don’t think she could have gotten his whole finger in one bite, though. That part was kind of far-fetched.”
I laughed hard enough to spook the cat.
9. The children’s music used throughout, all la-la-la? Especially nice touch.
10. I was particularly excited to see this movie when I found out that Rian Johnson, who directed the absolutely spectacular noir Brick, was one of the editors on the film. Now, I’ve never been really good at knowing who to credit for what, so I’m just going to give both the director Lucky McKee and all the editors massive props for how this film is put together. The very first images shock and grab you. A lot of the scenes are very powerful, particularly one that takes place in a classroom full of blind children. (This is, er, not the inspirational scene that such a sentence would probably normally imply.) I especially enjoyed some of the scenes that would cut away in the middle of the action, jump forward in time a little, and then jump back with a few quick shots to show you what you missed. (I’m sure there’s a better way to technically describe this, but I never became the Film Student double major I had hoped to be, so fuck it.)
The editing plays a noticeable role here in visually tying the themes together, and it’s just as important as Angela Bettis’s awesome performance. Without the visuals and awesome editing, I don’t think this movie would have been half as good as it was.
11. And, hey, Donnie Darko fans! Guess who’s in this one? Uh, no, not Jake Gyllenhaal. No, now you got it! Frank the Bunny! With, I must say, the most spectacular hair I have ever seen. There’s something about James Duval that makes me smile, even if he’s sort of a Keanu Reeves rip-off. I just grin like Hell whenever I find him in something.
12. Also, in case you weren’t sure . . . dolls are fucking creepy. That is all.
All right, kids. Now it’s time for the spoilers.
Here’s that plot summary I mentioned before:
“Betrayed by the people she considers friends, a disturbed young woman is further traumatized when one of her cherished dolls is accidentally broken. She decides to build herself a new doll, assembled from body parts belonging to her ex-friends!”
I guess Hole’s, “Doll Parts” might have been a little too on-the-nose to be included on the soundtrack, huh?
Yes. Crazy May kills Jeremy Sisto, Jeremy Sisto’s drunken Halloween date Nora Zehetner, Anna Faris, Anna Faris’s leggy fuckbuddy Nichole Hiltz, and finally Frank the Bunny so that she can harvest each of them for their best physical attributes and sew these parts together to make her own Frankenstein inspired doll, Amy. Like I said, some of the foreshadow wasn’t exactly subtle . . . Frank the Bunny has a Frankenstein tattoo on his shoulder that made me roll my eyes when I first saw it . . . but if I hadn’t seen the above plot summary, I might not have initially thought too much of May’s fixation on Jeremy Sisto’s perfect hands. As it was, the very first time she said it, I was like, “Oh, honey. You’re going to lose those.” And guess what? He does.
I didn’t really feel all that much sympathy for Adam. I mean, he didn’t really do anything wrong, but I wasn’t too upset about him biting the big one. I was a little sadder for Frank the Bunny and Anna Faris. Frank was just an awesome five-minute character. He’s like an overgrown stoner child who likes jujubes and wants to rub ice on his nipples. You know, as one does. He didn’t deserve to get killed. (Of course, this teaches you a lesson, kids: when you find a dead cat in a stranger’s freezer, the proper thing to do is smile and make an excuse to leave quickly where you call the cops behind the safety of a locked door. What you don’t do is call the woman a fucking freak and refuse to be her friend. It’s not that you’re wrong; your life-expectancy is just all that much shorter if you go this route.)
Polly . . . I don’t know about Polly. She’s kind of child-like herself, sort of automatically trusting everyone around her, including May, which . . . yeah, probably not the best move there. Polly’s motivations never seem entirely clear to me, whether she’s using May or genuinely attracted to May. I think she just doesn’t seem to have any concept that the world doesn’t actually revolve around her, and that what she does can actually hurt people. The scene where she dies is sort of sad: May has knives to Polly’s neck, and Polly just leans back and is like, “I know you’d never hurt me, May.” The expression on her face when this proves to be an incorrect assumption . . . you can’t help but feel bad for her. Her death is silent and quick.
Once May has assembled all her doll parts (“So many pretty parts and no pretty wholes”) she sews new friend Amy together (“If you can’t find a friend, make one.”) But Amy only has drawn-on eyes. She can’t actually see May, and this grieves May to the point where she decides to pull out her own eye (the lazy one) and give it to Amy to use. May lies down beside Amy, crying, and eventually Amy moves her gigantic, er, man hand, to cup May’s face. May smiles, and the movie ends.
Like I said, disturbing.
May isn’t scary, not in the traditional, check-under-your-bed, hold-the-teddy-bear-close, sleep-with-the-lights-on scary. One of the reviews I read on Rotten Tomatoes called the movie a generic, campy horror film, and that review was just . . . wrong. Love it or hate it, this film is kind of the opposite of camp, really. May is the intelligent, creepy, slow burn to a seemingly inevitable, macabre conclusion, and while I wasn’t scared by anything in the film, I was most definitely unnerved by a lot of it. Because if it’s one thing that’s truly unnerving, it’s finding out how sympathetic a flesh-stitching psychotic can really be.
Moral: oh, there are several. Let me list them one at a time.
1. If you are a young, isolated child who only wants to make friends, and you also have an eye patch, do not be ashamed of your eye patch. When another child comes up to you and asks if you’re a pirate, the answer is always yes. Kids like pirates. Everyone likes pirates. You will be the cool pirate kid instead of the freakshow with an eye patch who grows up to have a doll for a friend that whispers things to you that, for some reason, no one else can hear.
2. If you are stuck in a room with a dangerous psycho or at least someone you suspect has the serious potential to quickly become a dangerous psycho, don’t make her angry. Play along or run faster. Never refuse to be her friend.
3. If you’re a loving mother who only wants the best for her child, don’t also be an obsessive, creepy asshole.
4. DOLLS ARE FUCKING FREAKY.