It’s difficult to refrain from praising 2002 indie gem May, a ceaselessly charming film going beyond the psychological slasher or revenge story it bills itself as. It would be too easy, too simple to lump May in with these films even though it certain has elements of the unstable psycho, jilted lover, and social outcast. Yet, as the story takes its time to reveal, these are all just symptoms or expressions of what the movie really is–a superb re-visioning of Frankenstein.
The film’s success is nearly entirely due to its lead, Angela Bettis in the title role. She carries herself with an easy awkwardness making us believe May can’t be any other way while avoiding silly caricature. A lesser actor would have fallen into playing the role for laughs, pity laughs, but Bettis gives us a young woman who is so very earnest it is heartbreaking to see her flail at human interaction. May is such a tender and sincere person that when she is emotionally hurt we in the audience feel the wounding acutely.
And emotional hurt is what the film is all about. In a desperate attempt to connect with others, to have at least one friend, May rushes headlong into any kind of affection unprepared and blind to any consequences. Her romance with Adam (Jeremy Sisto) falls apart because Adam is your standard proto-hipster douchebag who treats women as interchangeable objects of amusement for when he’s bored. When he invariably dumps her by ghosting her, May drifts into the arms of her co-worker Polly (Anna Faris) who isn’t so much promiscuous as vivacious. However, May is not at an emotional level where she can deal with any sort of polyamory. May, through her own naiveté and the callousness of those around her, descends into a crippling depression.
For May, the blemishes making each person unique, for good or bad, only further emphasize her distance from others. She has internalized a fear or contempt of imperfection seeing herself as hopelessly outside all love. When she sees others, she only sees what makes them beautiful. This psychosis leads her into extreme isolation where her moral judgment collapses in on itself.
The disregard she suffers from Adam and Polly deepens her pit. Depression blooms from anger, and soon May breaks. On Halloween, May goes out to literally make a new friend. She isn’t about revenge per se but that certainly comes out. The violence in May is fleeting but with great impact relying on the shock of the moment and sound to convey its grimness.
May is the dark side or, rather, the reality of the manic pixie dream girl. In fact, I would contend this movie kills the trope leaving only corpse to be re-animated by greed and stupidity…you know, Zooey Deschanel. It is also a horror film where the torment of the protagonist is never resolved yet there is a sort of happy ending.
A criminally undervalued & under-seen indie horror masterpiece.