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There are some things in life that may revolt you, things you find personally disturbing and yet you have to watch. That accident on the way to work, horrific scenes on the news, all compel us on some visceral level to watch. Perhaps it is a need deep inside that causes us to experience all aspects of the human experience. In any case, this is the initial thought I had while watching the film ‘May’. Although there are scenes of violence and gore I was drawn to this well crafted film. May (Angela Bettis) is a young woman set apart from her peers. For one thing as a girl she had strabismus, lazy eye, requiring her to where an eye patch for several years. Of course considering the kind and accepting nature of school age children she was constantly put upon and ridiculed. While working in a veterinary clinic May meets a young man Adam (Jeremy Sisto) and an oddly reciprocating relationship forms. When Adam openly states that he is weird May responds "I like weird. Actually, Adam has no idea just how weird May actually is. His idea of weird is his enjoyment of bizarre and violent films cumulating in his own opus, a student film of a couple that begins by kissing and then moving on to mutual cannibalism. May’s only reaction is the unrealistic number of bites taken by the lovers. A counter point in May’s life is Polly (Anna Faris), a lesbian that works with her in the clinic. In support of the establishment of weird there is a scene of erotically charged cutting between the two women. What drives May on the deepest of levels is her yearning for revenge on a society that shunned her most of her life. I won’t spoil things for those interesting in this film but suffice it to say that when meek little May gets going on revenge the results are worthy of a place in the horror hall of fame. At the core here is one of my personal favorite themes in film, take a reasonable person and push them into unreasonable circumstances. Here, the child May was the last vestige of reasonable she will experience in life and the unreasonable circumstances may have occurred early in life but the effects did not dissipate, they simmered like a stew until boiling over years later was the only option May could perceive. It is often said that revenge is a dish best served cold and for May this saying is the mantra that directs her existence.

There appears to be a requirement in reviewing this film, you have to mention Steven King’s Carrie. There is the similarity in the theme of the out cast girl taking revenge but also the fact that Angela Bettis appeared in the recent television remake of this classic horror flick. Actually, when you examine the resume of this promising young actress you will see that she has made a nice career for herself playing much damaged characters. Her work in ‘Girl, Interrupted’ and ‘Bless the Child’ demonstrates that Bettis has the acting chops to take on the psychological depth a role like May requires. Bettis juxtaposes in May a fragile young woman and a human monster. While the tendency here is to go over the top, she plays it exactly to the line and no further. The danger here for the writer and director is to present the character as too unsympathetic for the audience to care about. The skill that Bettis brings to this film permits you to see this dark and foreboding world through her eyes. While you may be revolted on some level you understand her. Sisto is also an actor familiar with playing extremely weird characters. While he has been around for many years professionally most will recognize him as the manic-depressive brother on Six Feet Under. Here, he has to pull back a few notches in order to heighten the audience’s reaction to May. Rather than trying to overwhelm each scene he supports the plot. Faris is just perfect as the loose cannon Polly. She provides a contrast to May, an alternate path for her that just reinforces the motives to of the main character. This is a far cry from her comic performances in the Scary Movie flicks.

Director Lucky McKee was obviously greatly influenced by horror master Dario Argento. There are many aspects of this film that seemed a bit like McKee was making a student film based upon the works of Argento. There are devices used in this film that reveal that this is McKee’s freshman effort. With that out of the way the overall direction was very good. The pacing of the film was such that the audience is drawn into the horror May lives with although McKee could have given a little more time for us to become acclimated to it. Some may find the graphic scenes featuring animals more offensive than those with humans. The innocence of the animals makes for a bit more revolting mood although this film does not come close to the animal cruelty presented in flicks like Gummo. McKee does manage to instill some very dark comedy into the film. Normally this would be done to give a break from the horror but here it only adds to the dark nature of the film. Even if you don’t particularly like his style here he is a director to watch.

The DVD is light on extras. Then again, what extras would you want, perhaps a documentary on filming body parts? There is a mildly interesting commentary track by cast and crew that does tend towards the pedantic. The Dolby 5.1 audio is typically well balanced although the rear tracks are sporadic. The sound stage is full and realistic with just a little push to the low end. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is above average providing a crisp, clear picture. The color palette gives a brutal realism to the scenes. While this film is definitely not for all tastes it is interesting and will appeal to the hard core horror fans as well as those interested in more cutting edge material. The performances alone are worth the price.

Posted 7/17/03

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