Film Reviews

31 Days of Halloween: A Girl Just Wants a Real Friend in Lucky McKee’s May

This October, we’re challenging ourselves to watch at least one horror movie a day. Today we look to the early 2000s.

Approximately halfway through Lucky McKee’s rather twisted 2002 gem May, Adam (Jeremy Sisto) invites the titular May (Angela Bettis) into his house to watch a student film he made before dropping out of college. Shot in black and white and scored to Tommy James & The Shondells’ “Hanky Panky,” this short reeks of film student cool. It depicts a young, carefree couple rapidly progressing from innocent (frolicking through the woods) to amorous (stopping to make out) to oddly cannibalistic (she bites off his finger, he takes out of a chunk of her thigh). It ends with them each a bloody mess, yet grinning serenely, as if this is all just a part of the normal courtship process.

The strangeness of the video or attempted artistic message never seems to really register on May’s face. Instead, she just smiles and uses the opportunity to move closer to Adam on the couch, eventually placing his arm around her. Afterward, she has only one note: “I don’t think she could have gotten his whole finger in just one bite. That part was kind of far-fetched.”

This is but one of many red flags throughout May which Adam ignores in favor of simply focusing on trying to finally have sex with this impossible girl. Sure, it’s kind of strange his artsy student film didn’t phase her for a second and only seemed objectionable on biological, “You can’t just rip a person’s finger off in one bite” grounds, but she’s quirky-cute and he’s a guy. So, what are we even talking about here? Let’s do this!

Mere minutes after that when they retreat to the bedroom, May bites Adam’s lower lip so hard it bleeds, and then she spreads his blood across her neck and upper chest. Unconvincingly, she claims, “You know, like in your movie,” but she seems to be enjoying it too much for it to be that innocent.

For whatever reason, that’s finally a bridge too far for Adam. He walks out disgusted even though she’s ready to have sex. The rejection…well, it does bad things to May’s mind.

What exactly is wrong with May? What is she capable of when she finally snaps? And, seriously, what the hell is up with that creepy doll she keeps talking to!

Those are the questions driving May, a film I learned of via the Shock Till You Drop-produced documentary The 50 Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen. It came in at #34 and was described as being “the perfect film that encapsulates what it’s like to be the loner or the outsider” by Shock Waves’ Rob Galluzzo.

Really, for a good chunk of the runtime that’s all May seems to be about – a loner’s awkward attempts to make friends and talk to the hot guy she has a crush on. Her optometrist gives her contact lenses to help fix her lazy eye, an affliction she’s had since childhood and contributed greatly to her lack of social skills growing up (all the other kids teased her, we gather).

After that, we glimpse her day-to-day life: assisting with surgeries at a veterinarian’s office by day, spending her nights alone in an apartment where her only friend seems to be a doll in a glass box. The flirty receptionist at work (a post-Scary Movie, pre-Lost in Translation Anna Faris) keeps trying to get her to go clubbing but she’s too shy to say yes. She goes crazy over Adam but is maybe also just a little too much into him and oddly fixated on his hands.

The poor girl clearly needs/wants to make a connection with people but has no idea how to go about doing it.

But, there’s something just off enough about Angela Bettis’ masterfully sympathetic performance to tell us we’re not watching some forgotten early 2000s rom-com. Even though this is about a social awkward twenty-something with a job at a veterinary hospital, this is NOT Loser, the Jason Biggs-Mena Suvari rom-com directed by Amy Heckerling that actually meets that same description. Such a comparison flies out the window every time May yells at her doll to shut up even though it clearly hasn’t said anything. Plus, Lucky McKee drops in enough sad, indie rock love songs commenting on May’s mental state to hint at a likely tragic end.

What exactly happens…well, I’m not spoiling that other than to say it left me stunned and in sudden need to see everything Angela Bettis has ever done. She’s just so damn good here, striking the perfect balance between vulnerable, desperate and unhinged. Turns out, a year after May she scored the title role in a TV movie remake of Carrie with a Bryan Fuller (!) script. The casting directors must have felt Lucky McKee had already done their job for them because May is clearly indebted to Carrie, yet somehow even more twisted. I loved it.

RANDOM PARTING TRIVIA

  • Marks the feature-length editing debut of [drum roll, please] Rian Johnson. Yes, The Last Jedi guy.
  • You know how there’s that documentary about the kids who spent years making a fan version of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Well, when Lucky McKee was 12 he and his friends made their own version of Nightmare on Elm Street.
  • May came about mostly due to the connections McKee built up through USC, but Angela Bettis goes back even further than that. She was married to one of McKee’s old high school classmates. McKee and Bettis have since collaborated together multiple times.
  • For example, the roles were reversed 4 years later when Bettis directed, McKee starred in the thriller Roman, an almost gender-swapped version of May focused on a lonely guy’s disastrous obsession with a girl. Before that, he directed, she starred in an episode of Masters of Horror.

May is currently available to stream for free – with ads – on Vudu in the United States.

Here’s What Else We’ve Watched So Far:

Tomorrow: The Ring

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