Lucky McKee’s May is the kind of movie I don’t want to review so much as psychoanalyze. Rich with neuroses and psychoses, this strange and ornery work of horror is likely the most gripping geek-girl-gets-even narrative since Carrie (and its star, Angela Bettis, also headlined the TV remake of Carrie). May Canady (Bettis) has been dominated since girlhood by two things: a lazy eye, which crosses unless she wears corrective glasses or lenses, and a creepy doll made by her mom as a girl and then passed down to May. For a long time, the doll is May’s only friend, until she meets veterinary coworker Polly (Anna Faris), an avidly sexual lesbian who hits on May at every opportunity, and studly mechanic Adam (Jeremy Sisto), with whom May falls haplessly, and unrequitedly, in love.

Those influenced by the poster art may go into May expecting more of a surly goth-horror anthem than it is. This is a horror movie only in the sense that, say, Secretary was a romance. In both, damaged and self-hating young women find something that works for them, though in May’s case it involves something much darker and bloodier than Maggie Gyllenhaal’s comparatively sunny journey. Most of the movie is about feeling left out and undesirable, and though we’re in May’s corner at the beginning, when she makes her sweetly gawky moves on Adam and gives herself over to the heady process of considering herself worthy of loving and being loved, May passes a certain point beyond which we really can’t go with her. Her obsessive, needy behavior becomes painful to watch. Like Taxi Driver, the movie locks us in with the main character and then forces us to watch her unstoppable psychological decline.

Consider the odd “romantic triangle” May finds herself part of. She loves Adam, who thinks of her as a strangely alluring potential partner, but no more than that (a horror fan, particularly taken with the work of Dario Argento, Adam “likes weird” and finds May interesting more or less on that basis alone, until she gets too weird). She acquiesces to same-sex contact with the lascivious Polly, but Polly doesn’t really love her either — she’s all too ready to toss May over for a hotter chick if one should present herself. There’s no chance of security in either of these relationships, but May, accustomed to being alone, pursues them (or goes along with them) possibly because she’s grateful for any attention. When she’s rejected, May turns herself into the cold-eyed goth of the poster art, and Angela Bettis’ transformation from fumbly geek girl to self-assured, smooth-talking murderer is startling. We look at her now, with sharp object in hand, and find almost no trace of the old, hapless May.

Lucky McKee writes and directs all of this with an unemphatic straightforwardness that tells us this material is no big deal to him — on some level, he’s lived it (for instance, the press materials inform us that he, too, had a lazy eye). Though it goes for all-out gorehound style near the end (most unfortunately in a scene involving the scissor death of a doofy punk guy named Blank, played by James Duval, once again getting killed by a troubled misfit as in Donnie Darko), its heart remains in the convulsions of mind, not flesh. It takes its obsessive cues less from Argento (name-checked several times here) than from David Cronenberg, and indeed, watching the film, I thought to myself, This is what Carrie might have played like if Cronenberg directed it — less bombastic and gory than creepy and upsetting. May proves that fresh new work can be done in the horror genre if the director follows his or her own shadowy muse rather than tries consciously to fashion the next big thing in horror.

And Angela Bettis’ performance, a true brave oddity that dares to beg our sympathy and dares even more to trash it, is so on-the-money that it makes me want to catch her in that Carrie remake. I daresay, though, that the remake will preserve less of the downtrodden flavor of Stephen King’s book than this lesser-known little gem. The Carrie remake smells like an attempt to pour old wine into a hip new bottle; May is the real thing.

Explore posts in the same categories: art-house, cult, horror, one of the year's best

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