May (2002) Movie Review – 31 Days of Halloween 2023
A socially awkward veterinary assistant with a lazy eye and obsession with perfection descends into depravity after developing a crush on a boy with perfect hands.
Welcome to Knockout Horror and to another installment in our 2023 K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature. We checked out an extremely strange movie with a strong female lead yesterday in Excision. And today we are taking a look at a movie that was possibly an inspiration for it. Lucky McKee’s May starring Angela Bettis. This movie has become something of a cult classic in recent times and is one of my low key favourite horror movies. It’s definitely not for everyone, though. Let’s take a look.
I always start these articles by reminding you that if you are participating in an October horror movie a day marathon. Then you can check out our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween 2022 list for inspiration or even our A Tubi 31 Days of Halloween for a whole selection of movies available to watch completely free. You can also just follow along with the reviews we will be releasing every day. These reviews will be sticking to a shorter format as most of these movies are old and there isn’t a great deal I can say about them that hasn’t already been said.
Comedy Horror Slasher With a Difference
May is the story of a lonely young woman with a lazy eye doing whatever she can to create perfection. May (Angela Bettis) has been shunned by friends her whole life and suffered a difficult childhood. Now an adult, her only friend is a doll made for her by her mother. While walking home from her job at a veterinary clinic one day. May spots a man who has, in her opinion, the most beautiful hands she has ever seen. Despite her social awkwardness, May manages to strike up a conversation with the man setting in motion a series of events that will change both of their lives forever.
Whereas the slightly similar feeling Excision was a simple psychological horror with a strong comedy edge. May could, more accurately, be classed as a psychological horror slasher. A fact that doesn’t really become apparent until towards the end of the movie. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the slasher theme of the movie isn’t at all obvious for the vast majority of the film.
It’s an odd pairing. Slashers rarely spend a great deal of time placing characters under microscopes but that is what happens in May and it works incredibly well. McKee has blended psychological horror elements with a biting sense of wit and that is the dominant theme for the majority of May. This is a wickedly funny movie that places a spotlight on our woefully troubled and incredibly awkward main character.
A Comedic Character Study
For much of its length, May is a character study of our leading lady in much the same way as the aforementioned Excision is. May is a rather complex character. She is nuttier than squirrel farts and extremely socially awkward. A life of loneliness has lead to her frequently interacting with a home made doll. Eroding her social skills and causing her to be considerably uncomfortable when talking to her co-workers and people around her. Much of the movie’s comedy comes from just how hilarious these interactions are.
Angela Bettis’ fantastic performance deserves special commendation here. May is hilarious. Every facial expression is meaningful and deliberately placed to drag you into the awkwardness of the interaction. Every uncomfortable glance, cast at the people she is interacting with, is carefully considered to reflect just how incapable May is of connecting socially. It is brilliant stuff. There isn’t a single frame of wasted screen time when it comes to May herself. The strange thing here is that some people seem to miss the nuance of this performance. I have seen people describe it as bad acting which is a statement as ridiculous as it is short sighted.
A Fascinating Character
May’s continual urges to touch and to be noticed constantly overwhelm her. Leading to moment after moment of toe curling tension that will have you begging to look away. The fact that she manages to cultivate relationships is almost baffling. But the ever present sense that she is going to mess it up, one way or another, keeps you invested and keeps the comedy coming. May is one of those characters that you absolutely have to know everything about. She is funny, tragic, complex and completely engaging throughout.
It almost shouldn’t work as well as it does. It should be boring but, for some reason, it just isn’t. We spend nearly all of our time with May and every event in the movie revolves around her. But she always keeps you wanting more. She’s one of horror movie history’s most fascinating characters. Whether it is a surprise or not is up for debate. It’s characters like this that make real life so fascinating. Quirky individuals are life’s most important in a lot of ways. But the fact that McKee and Bettis created such a compelling individual to base an entire movie around is worthy of praise.
A Sharp Ending
May spends a great deal of its time and effort convincing you that it is, basically, a psychological horror. The deep dive into the personality and mind of our titular character takes centre stage for the majority of the film. Sure, there is plenty of comedy but this is a good old fashioned character focused horror movie. Well, that is until it isn’t. As the whirlwind of May’s life reaches something of a crescendo. The movie changes into something completely different. Shedding its psychological horror skin and revealing a fairly by the numbers slasher underneath.
It’s a somewhat jarring change and relatively unexpected given the first hour or so of the movie. In fact, I would go as far as to say it will leave a few viewers disappointed. It’s not that the final twenty minutes, or so, are bad. They are just very “by the numbers”. May takes a lot of chances throughout its running time. Only to abandon the risk taking in the final stanza to become a generic slasher.
It’s all the more surprising considering just how slow paced the majority of the movie is. May crawls along slowly, occasionally smelling the roses, only to come to a full sprint for the last 20 minutes. It can be a bit jarring and while the ending contains a bunch of seriously iconic horror lines and some genuine laughs. I can see a few people feeling turned around by it and not appreciating the change of pace.
A Standout Performance
As mentioned above, Angela Bettis is fantastic here. It’s a crying shame that May didn’t do better commercially because it should have been a star making turn for Bettis. I am not saying that she didn’t go on to have a decent career. It’s just that her career never lived up to her potential. She is beyond brilliant in May and it’s hard to imagine the movie being remotely as good without her. If May was to become a future horror icon it would be purely off of the back of her performance. She nails every facial expression, every tic, and every awkward body movement. Creating a character that is completely believable and entirely unique.
Bettis would go on to star in other Lucky McKee productions including the short movie Sick Girl and the very watchable Woman. She would never have an opportunity to bring a character like May to life again though which is something of a shame. She is a brilliant actor and great in everything she is in. Side characters are all strong, too, though they pale in comparison to Bettis. Anna Faris brings a sexed up version of her usual slightly dopey character that’s a lot of fun in parts. Jeremy Sisto is excellent as May’s initial infatuation Adam. And Ken Davitian gets a few laughs in a small role as May’s boss.
Great Scripting and Direction
Lucky McKee was responsible for both the script and direction here and he does a fantastic job. May was the first example of McKee’s slightly grungy approach to movie making. There is almost a D.I.Y punk horror feeling to the movie that absolutely begs for cult status. The movie feels like a throwback to the 70s and 80s while managing to retain a somewhat timeless feel. The soundtrack here bears mention, as well, for being completely fitting to the feel of the movie.
McKee’s shot setups are fairly basic but always keep the focus on May. Placing the viewer as something of a voyeur into her world. McKee and Bettis’ chemistry as director and actor are very apparent, as well. With McKee never wasting a frame in capturing May’s awkwardness. The script also deserves mention. There are some memorable lines here that you will find yourself quoting long into the future. The conversations between characters go a long way to put emphasis on just how ill at ease May is socially, there are a number of dialogue based moments of comedy and there are some brilliant one liners.
It’s a shame that McKee didn’t go on to do anything particularly of note after May. He reunited with Bettis a few times when he directed the tenth episode of the Television series Master of Horror episode Sick Girl and feature length movie The Woman. As well as working with her in an acting role in Roman. He also contributed to a bunch of anthologies but it never really felt like he became that name you were excited to see attached to a movie. He remade his first movie All Cheerleaders Die in 2013 which was poorly received and directed Old Man last year. Another movie that isn’t particularly well regarded. I still enjoy his style, though, and consider him to be a director with a ton of great ideas.
Final Thoughts and Score
As I said in my previous reviews. May is a movie that is not going to be for everyone. Some people, in fact, absolutely hate it. It’s a weird little movie that is incredibly unique and extremely quirky. It’s part comedy, part psychological horror and part slasher. Something which may put a lot of people off. It’s also a very slow movie that rarely ventures away from its titular character. If you don’t buy into the central theme and don’t get the main character you are going to have a bad time.
But Bettis’ lead performance as May is one for the horror ages and makes the movie worth the price of entry alone. May is hilarious, captivating and quite unsettling in parts. It holds up to multiple viewings and is completely deserving of its cult classic status. If you are in the mood for something different, May definitely fits the bill. It slips up in the end and McKee’s unusual approach to horror is going to earn a few detractors but I still absolutely love May.