A loud, agonzied, bloody scream is a pleasantly jolting way to begin a horror movie. And while “May” isn’t really a horror movie per se – not at first, anyway – it dives right in without regard for one’s eardrums. And only gets better from there. Call it a horror movie, a psychological thriller or a feminist splatterfest, but this sort of story is tough to get right. “May” gets it more than right.
Angela Bettis (“Bless the Child”) plays May, who is introduced as a sad little girl with a lazy eye and no friends to be found. So her mother gives May a friend, an antique doll named Suzy. Suzy lives in an ornate glass case, Suzy has huge blue eyes and a moon-white face, and Suzy is as scary-looking as a doll can be.
Twenty years later, it seems Suzy is still May’s only friend. The lazy eye has been corrected with contact lenses, but in all other respects May is still painfully gawky, a real wallflower’s wallflower. Bettis plays May just this side of over-the-top, a twitchy freak with hand-me-down clothes and rat’s-nest hair. Writer/ Director Lucky McKee (despite his name, the guy has “horrormeister” written all over him), while mercifully steering clear of tired “Scream”-isms, isn’t afraid to go for the odd – very odd – laugh at May’s expense. And he has great fun with May’s veterinary hosptial co-worker, a pistol-hot nympho lesboid named Polly, played to the hilt by Anna Faris (“Scary Movie”). Polly has a bit of a crush on May, believe it or not, but May has other designs.
The plot thickens and deepens when May finally gets the attention of a local mechanic – and Argento aficianado – named Adam, who is given an honest, laid-back allure by Jeremy Sisto (the TV Jesus dude). His herky-jerky courtship with May is entirely believable, and McKee allows it to develop at a refreshingly relaxed pace most horror directors wouldn’t dare. It’s a such a simple thing, yet so shockingly rare for the genre: get the audience to care about the characters, then do awful things to them.
As charitable as “May” has been toward its characters, when the awfulness does set in – very liberal lashings of gore, no punches pulled, thank you – the squeamish had better head for the exits. The gruesome turn of events begins when May blows her first kiss with Adam, a surprising and heartbreaking moment. From that point the movie never once flinches; it pushes us around and takes us exactly where it should. Shivery and seductive, “May” is a delicious little creepathon. You go, girl.