The title character (Bettis) does not have telekinetic powers or a special relationship with rats, although she does work as a vet's assistant. She is an awkward, lonely girl; we see in flashbacks that she was rejected as a child: By other children, because of her lazy eye (and resulting eyepatch); and by her parents, through general indifference and for reasons not entirely known. We see her mother present May with a doll on her birthday, but won't let May take it out of the box, not wanting to "ruin" it; years later, the doll is May's only friend.
I realize this sounds campy, and some of it is certainly close. But like Willard, May generates genuine sympathy for its title character, and wrings humor honestly, not relying on laughs as cheap entertainment insurance. The details of McKee's script come through in quieter moments, and they have a willful perversity that most horror directors reserve exclusively for death scenes. The animal hospital, for example, is the site of several gruesomely funny exchanges (watch for a dog owner's panic about his pet's leg) alternating with the flirtations of May's co-worker Polly (Anna Faris, splitting the difference between sly and goofy).
Both Polly and Adam (Jeremy Sisto, also in Wrong Turn), the object of May's affection, are initially attracted to May because they claim to "like weird." Adam shows May his twisted student film (her evaluation is fairly priceless), but balks at May performing what could lightly be called an homage to his work. One of the movie's more interesting observations is how "liking weird" is often actually an exercise in enjoying predetermined limits; both Polly and (especially) Adam clearly try to indulge their dark sides, and are freaked out when confronted by May's genuine strangeness. It's to Angela Bettis's credit that we "like weird" for most of the movie, even when things get a bit bloody.
As good as Sissy Spacek was in Carrie, that character had a wispy fragility that could make her pitiable, even irritating. Bettis's May is not always of sound mind and at times can barely get a sentence out, but she's an oddly endearing creation. Late in the film, there are several scenes where May, after further rejection, begins to coldly adapt more conventional speech patterns, and Bettis does wonders with words like "dude" and "gams." It's an expertly tragicomic performance.
May's final act is both clever and, after a point, broadly telegraphed; this, in turn, creates an odd combination of tension and impatience as the more outwardly horrific elements of the movie begin to appear. Still, I was especially surprised by the reminder of how gore can be used effectively. I admired the special effects and choreography of, say, Final Destination 2, for example, but without much response more primal than "whoa." Nothing in May is as creative as those Rube Goldberg gore-traps, but it had me flinching more often than not.
If there's a slight whiff of student-film obviousness coming from McKee's labor of love (rife with metaphorical glass-cracking and eye-scratching), it at least feels like classical student-film obviousness. Self-aware sans smarminess, more unsettling than jump-in-your-seat frightening, May is an auspicious (if under-seen) start for McKee, and the best horror film of the year so far that doesn't feature Crispin Glover.
May showers bring June bugs.
Run time: 93 mins
In Theaters: Friday 11th April 2003
Box Office Worldwide: $150.3 thousand
Budget: $500 thousand
Distributed by: Lionsgate Releasing
Production compaines: A Loopy Production LLC, 2 Loop Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Fresh: 44 Rotten: 20
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Lucky McKee
Screenwriter: Lucky McKee