No thank you, online horror buffs, for starting the buzz that convinced me to take a chance on May, a quirky horror film from writer/director Lucky McKee. The presence of a front-of-DVD-case rave from Aint-It-Cool-News and a back-cover blurb from Film Threat was a clue that this indie horror film’s support is mostly limited to the Internet crowd. (Roger Ebert, the avuncular honorary leader of the online geek contingent, did give it a rave.) Early on, McKee displays a knack for genuinely discomfiting material involving contact lenses and animal hospitals, but such sharply focused moments are increasingly rare as he stretches his material to fill 93 minutes.
Remember back when movie characters had to be the kind of inveterate assholes who populated Carrie in order to deserve the bloody retribution of a woman scorned? In this one, all they have to do is, you know, freak out a little when your love bites break the skin and then you smear their blood all over your face and neck. As a matter of fact, McKee seems to have no insight whatsoever into actual females, having created one of the most pathetic, inexplicable and unlovable horror-film protagonists in cinema history. Think psycho bitch with the flimsiest excuses for sociopathy. As portrayed by Angela Bettis in a game but terminally uneven performance, May is like a young Carol Kane, with tics. She’s a woman of few words and no social skills, driven to the brink of psychological ruin by her lazy eye. The main problem is we never get to know her; she’s too far gone even as the movie begins. Her subsequent transformation from mousy fuh-reak to assured psycho bitch is too drastic and therefore unconvincing, though it’s a relief to see her stuff all those twitches back in her handbag.
The characters are placed in unlikely situations (May decides it would be fun to volunteer at a day-care center for blind children, after wondering aloud, “Why are those children touching everything?”) and given stupid decisions to make (like May’s bringing her beloved doll, which she keeps in a badly cracked glass box, to said day-care center; no points for guessing whose palms get lacerated by glass shards). McKee doesn’t have much in the way of a visual sensibility, although I’d definitely hire D.P. Steve Yedlin to make my low-budget horror movie look good. Production designer Leslie Keel does generally fine work. For the purposes of this review, I won’t even mention the nonsensical editorial technique, which seems like a directorial bid for a stylistic signature that’s otherwise lacking.
The dialogue is occasionally clever but never truly witty, and McKee telegraphs his own ending so far that, by the 20-minute mark, it’s just a gimme anyway. An hour later, tedium fully registered, I was just wishing it was all over. How do you get all the way from script to screen with a horror movie that has no pay-off whatsoever? Anna Faris is kinda fun, in an over-the-top way, as a ditsy masochist with a weakness for hot chicks, but that’s as lively as the proceedings get. A couple of tepid sex scenes and a series of rotely gory murders swiped from a lifetime of watching slasher flicks on VHS don’t improve matters much.
On one of the DVD’s two (!) self-congratulatory commentary tracks*, McKee traces the title character back to a short film he conceived in college. That sounds about right. My favorite moment is when Dario Argento devotée Adam (Jeremy Sisto, who plays this absolutely straight) levels his gaze at May, gives her one of those you-gotta-be-kidding-me looks and asks, incredulously, “You haven’t seen [Argento’s] Trauma?” Come on. I haven’t seen Trauma, and I’m into that shit. But it figures. The kind of guy who keeps prop knives in his bedroom is the kind of guy who proudly displays the famous torture scene from Opera on his bedroom wall is the kind of freak who makes this movie.
* The moment in the commentary track where McKee says his film was heavily influenced by Robert De Niro and Taxi Driver had me laughing aloud and running the DVD back to make sure I heard right. It’s more weirdly funny than anything in the actual film.