Ready yourselves for another strange one.
Are we, like, best friends now that you’ve seen what’s in my freezer?
There are a lot of ways to read a movie as layered as Lucky McKee’s May. You could write about loneliness, obsession, perfectionism, relationships, sexuality, weirdness, friendship, fragility, exteriors, or even how it relates to Frankenstein. Because it does.
In light of Eleanor’s story in The Haunting from yesterday, I’d like to talk about May in terms of women. In particular, a woman’s self-confidence, and how she gets it.
In The Haunting, Eleanor yearns for a place of her own; that physical place represents a number of things, not least of all, a confidence that she can happily exist on her own. May Kennedy already has a place of her own, as well as a job, and a talent for sewing her own clothes. What she doesn’t have is friendship, and that lack of normal human interaction leads to shyness, a glaring social awkwardness, and a troubling way of seeing the world’s people in “pieces” rather than “wholes” (most phenomenal movie quote happens in Act 3).
Much like Eleanor, May’s troubles seem to take root with her Mother – obsessed with outward appearances, taking great lengths to cover her daughter’s lazy eye with a pirate patch, gifting her a doll that is too perfect to ever take out of her glass case. She’s also really particular about how her daughter unwraps birthday gifts. Basically, this kid’s had a rough one.
So grown-up May begins the film wishing for a place to belong, or rather, a person to belong to, the same way that Eleanor desires to belong to Hill House. But the beautiful difference that several decades of rehashing tropes and motifs can lead to, is how these women go about achieving their ends. Eleanor wants to be cherished, and when the house gives that to her, she lets it. May also wants to be cherished, but when she’s denied it (over and over again), May does what Eleanor, perhaps, could not: She makes it for herself.
Without giving much away, because I do think enjoyment of May is at least partly dependent on not knowing where it is headed, let’s just say that after many scenes devoted to building character and strangeness, the film devolves into the kind of psychotic contemporary horror that makes the genre look real, real good. If you have patience (which I realize, many of my choices require), you will be greeted with genuinely great “kills,” promise. But if you’re also interested, as I am, in the horror of character psychology, you’ll be even more pleased.
May is surely, like Eleanor, a sad, needy, damaged woman. Her outlook on others and deep desire for physical perfection is terrifying and, excuse me for this terribly necessary language, really fucked up. But the art-horror you’ll encounter here may just be how much you agree with the vet-tech/seamstress.
If self-confidence comes from an ability to love yourself for who you are, in your entirety, flaws and all, then May takes that one step farther. In May Kennedy, you’ll find a horror woman who recognizes what she does well, accepts the way others see her, and finds herself. By the end of this movie, I believe you’ll meet a woman who has managed to fall in love with herself, all by her own unbelievable efforts. Whether those efforts are sane, well, that’s what makes great horror, isn’t it?
A simple thing this time – McKee frames a perfect shot when the girl who shall forever be known as “The Legs,” is murdered.
She was drinking from a carton of milk. It drops to the ground. The milk pools with pints of blood. It is beautifully framed, and a beautiful thing to watch unravel.
Other Things To Notice:
I think other fans of this film will be upset if I don’t make mention of the scene with May at “show + tell” with the blind children. The initial irony that she would bring a doll encased in glass, and ask children who cannot see what they think it is, is both illogical and cruel. And of course, the end result is not what May expected (although, really demonstrative of her self-possession at this point), and one of the most terrible scenes for nelophobics everywhere (yeah, there’s a fear of glass – you might have it after this one).
I’m really into the score. It’s somewhere between Coraline and The Pixies. It enhances all the right moments, particularly the scene in the coffee shop where May first approaches Adam. Listen: I think you’ll see what I mean.
There is a lot in this quick crit I haven’t addressed, and once you’ve finished the film, you’ll know why (cause spoilers, guys!). I’d really like to expand on a lot of what I’ve alluded to here, so if you enjoyed the film (or hated it and are just perplexed), let me know in the comments. I’d love to get a convo going, or even write another post to delve a bit further if there’s interest.
If You Like It, Watch:
All Cheerleaders Die: I generally am not a consumer of recent zombie fare (oversaturated), but this 2013 addition also from writer/director Lucky McKee is unique, funny, and bizarre. And like May, it’s view on women and femininity is nuanced. *Currently streaming on Netflix
Audition: This is a swing in a different direction, but if you want to see a female villain in action, here you go. It’s Japanese horror from the unofficial master Takashi Miike, and it takes a strong stomach. This is what I’d call “torture-porn,” though the Japanese do have a more artful take on this genre than any of the Saw films could ever hope to touch (definitely offended a die-hard there #sorrynotsorry). It is psychotic, and it is very hard to watch, but it makes a statement.
American Mary: I won’t say much, because I’m going to cover this in a later post this week. But it is excellent in its portrayal of women – probably because it’s written and directed by two of them. Strong stomach required, as well. *Currently streaming on Netflix
*click for the trailer*