Already this film is being compared to Brian De Palma’s Carrie, which shares a strange, female, misfit protagonist’s decent into madness, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. However, May is more original than the description makes it sound, as well as being possibly the scariest movie of the year.
Angela Bettis plays the title character, an awkward, shy girl whose obstructive mother makes her wear an eye patch to cover up her eye disorder. Friendless, May receives from her mother a doll that she made when she was younger, not to play with but to admire through a glass case. “If you can’t find a friend, make one,” says her mother. Needless to say, May grows up a discomfited, socially incompetent recluse who works with a veterinarian, and we see her mess up a relationship with a handsome man (Jeremy Sisto) whose quirks she takes the wrong way and get her heart broken by a sexy coworker (Anna Faris) who’d rather sleep with several partners than have a meaningful relationship. The last straw comes at an excruciatingly awful incident after she volunteers to work at a school for blind children. May has already been making her own clothes by sewing patches together, works with stitching and amputation with the vet, and we see her cracking with frustration as she cuts up some of her dolls and taking her fury out on her unresponsive cat, which she instinctively kills and saves in her freezer. If you can’t find a friend…you know where this is headed.
What’s remarkable about this movie is how scary it is even though the viewer knows what’s going to happen. I winced every time May told someone how much she admired a certain physical feature, as I knew exactly what was going to happen to each and every one of them. May pulls no punches, and all your worst fears will come true. On that note, this isn’t like Carrie where the viewer relates to the protagonist and is glad to see her tormentors go. Here May is genuinely creepy and you fear for the safety of those around her, who aren’t typically stupid horror movie victims but people who enjoy May’s strangeness and don’t understand just how mentally ill she is. May is less like Dr. Frankenstein, whose curiosity compels him to try to play God, than Ed Gein, the real-life hopeless outcast whose infamous desires to “make his own friends” inspired Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs, among others.
As hard as it is to pity May, it makes for an incredibly scary movie. The opening shot before a flashback is so horrific that it’s agonizing to wait for the story behind it, and the story, emotional intensity, and even some very black humor are perfectly executed, as are the terrifying shots of everything from someone getting stabbed with scissors to May’s motionless doll, which makes some of the Puppet Master toys look like Toy Story. The all-newcomer cast couldn’t be better, and I’ll be very interested to see what Bettis and first-time director/screenwriter Lucky McKee do next. Not to say that May is perfect, as a closer look reveals that it raises a few questions it doesn’t answer, and it does get a little gratuitous. Still, you won’t be thinking about that when you’re getting the hell scared out of you.
This film is rated R for some graphic violence, as well as some foul language and some sexless innuendo.
People who like this movie should try the aforementioned Carrie, and Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, and Frankenstein. Todd Solondz’s more recent Welcome to the Dollhouse is a similarly dark and deeply upsetting — albeit nonviolent — look at a young, female misfit. Movie buffs may want to revisit probably the most famous (as well as one of the best) films about a lonely misfit taking vengeance on the surrounding world, Taxi Driver.