Lucky McKee’s May is not a great horror movie, it’s clunky in places, but it’s a good one, and it has a wonderful lead performance by Angela Bettis in the title role. Bettis and the film were compared to Carrie in more than one review, and the comparison is easy but apt. Both films deal with confused young women whose decision to reach out to society is met with vicious rejection. Both films deal with confused young women who snap.
Both May and Carrie belong to a horror subgenre that doesn’t exist but should called the Compassionate Horror Film. Awful things still happen, and our hero is usually directly responsible for at least a portion of those awful things, but we can’t help but feel for them, and we’re usually even rooting for them at least a bit. The heroes of the Compassionate Horror Film usually haven’t gotten a fair deal (a rather nice way to describe having a bucket of pig’s blood dumped on you in your Sunday best) and they usually have the disadvantage of being at least partially insane. It’s the old nature versus nurture trick, only with death, pitch black humor and an obvious bit of vicarious revenge on the part of the filmmakers.
Angela Bettis is one of the more vulnerable young women to appear in a horror film that I can immediately recall. She always seems to be on the verge of floating away, or evaporating at any given moment, and she has a pensive melancholy that suggests that evaporation might not be the worst thing in the world to happen to her. Bettis looks like a live action Tim Burton doll (this has probably been said before) and its remarkable and sad that more hasn’t been done with her. Tim Burton should give her a call, at the very least, if he ever decides to do a live action remake of The Nightmare Before Christmas. That would be a bad idea, but at least it would give Bettis more work.
McKee knows what he has with Bettis, and he has the refreshing confidence in both his film and his central character to take time with his small story, and build gracefully to the harsh notes that must eventually come. McKee said somewhere that he wanted to make a beautiful horror film, and he’s achieved that with May. The killings are May’s only real connection with these people who’ve betrayed her until the end, and as such the killings are treated as sensual, slow farewells, though they are notably not exploitive, nothing eclipses McKee’s compassion for May.
And then we come to the end, which, unlike most horror pictures, is the strongest portion of the story. We see May at the height of her despair, her bizarre plan a failure, and she tries one last desperate sacrifice…and it works. It’s intensely poignant, mysterious and creepy. Even better yet, its a happy ending in a horror film, one of the few such happy endings that fits perfectly within everything else that has preceded it. May finally finds friendship, in spite of odds or sanity.