CATEGORIES Cinematical


May has trouble making friends. As a child it was because she has a lazy eye, and as an adult it's because she's a raving psychotic. Her mother once made her a doll named Suzy to help ease the pain, imparting with the gift the fateful advice, "If you can't find a friend, make one." And as an adorably deranged adult that's exactly what May does, stitching together her perfect friend from the perfect parts of the people she meets. Someone's neck, someone else's hands, another girl's ears (complete with hoop earrings), and even the fur of a cat for hair, all crudely made whole and named Amy. But there's just one problem with all of this (on top of the dozens of terrifyingly obvious problems, I mean): Amy doesn't have the parts required to see the best friend for whom she's been waiting her entire life. And that's where we join this delightful story already in progress - Lucky McKee's 2002 film May may be hurtling headlong to a certain macabre solution, but that doesn't make its final moments any less shocking, compulsively watchable, or emotionally dissonant. It's a slight and smirking little movie, but it sticks the landing as indelibly as any film from the naughts.

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Angela Bettis' performance as May has been so empathetic and attuned to the character that when she first surveys her corpse creation and exhales "Words can't describe," you can't help but share in her belated joy. It's a twisted moment, but it's a dream come true. And for a second there, it seems like some pretty contemptible characters were horribly murdered for a good cause, and that May's psychosis might finally give her a few fleeting hours of happiness before things really start to smell. Actually, when she decides that her work has been for naught because Amy can't see her, you begin to feel as if she might not mind the eventual stench, so lost is she down her fleshy rabbit-hole (sorry, I should really delete "fleshy rabbit-hole" because it's terrible writing and also vile nonsense, but then I'd lose all those hits from the legions of people who obsessively Google "fleshy rabbit-hole" all day).

But the prolonged mirror moment that follows beautifully epitomizes the tightrope McKee and co. have had to walk throughout the duration of the film - until the very end it's vital that May remain functional and reluctantly relatable despite her obvious dementia. Her psychosis is a narrative one, and something simple and contained so as to abide by understandable and unchanging guidelines. May has to be crazy enough to wantonly murder pretty much every supporting character, yet not so far beyond the line of reason that she can no longer see the normal life she might have lead in her rear-view mirror. And as she sobs into the mirror during that minute-long static shot, Bettis' finely modulated performance tragically informs us that May has gone too far. There's a sack of flesh in her bedroom stitched together from the prized parts of several different people, all of whom she gruesomely murdered. And the thing is topped with the hair of a cat. She's no longer just that quirky chick who sits in the library and runs a Geocities cite dedicated to the cult of Max Schreck (my imagination of her supra-filmic life), she's a psycho killer, and her life has taken an irreversible turn. And has her hand haltingly reaches up to her left eye, May knows that she's far down a one-way street and the only way out is to keep going.



McKee doesn't hide the inevitable eye-gouging from us out of kindness - the scene is gory enough, but to make it about the gutsy violence would be to distract from the beautiful character work, and likely the very moment that inspired the film in the first place. Also, the squishy sound effect is plenty disgusting. And as Bettis lies down beside her unformed best friend, her anguished cries - like something out of a Dryer film - impeccably capture her profound confusion as to why her plan has failed, the profound pain of her continued inability to find a true companion, and also the profound pain caused by the gaping hole in her face where her eye used to be. It's a truly remarkable performance that was unfortunately buried by a wide-ranging prejudice against the genre that made it possible. It's further testament to Bettis' work that when her eyeball rolls off of Amy's face, the moment is as sad as it is darkly hilarious, and it's a shame that McKee is so quick to cut away from the image, which might have been more effective than he realized. The only explanation I can offer is that he was over-eager to get to the next shot, and I can understand why. The smile on Bettis' face as Amy's suddenly animated hand strokes her cheek is the film's crowning touch, and the dissonance felt by viewers as 90 minutes of grinning darkness give way to a gut punch is nothing short of delightful. It doesn't matter if May is imaging the sentience of her bloody Pinocchio or not, this is the happiest moment of her life. She's finally (and literally) made a friend, even if she had to give up an unhealthy amount of herself to do so. The world is cold and its inhabitants cruel, but people are just people and everyone wants to be loved. May is many things but she's not a monster, and that's never more clear than immediately after she's made one.