Going to this week’s film viewing, I tempered my expectations about May (2002), given that last week’s film, Evil Dead, incredibly impressed me. And after the credits rolled, I should say that even though I am not as equally enthralled this week, I have to admit that May creeped me out a lot. It was not exactly the “shout-your-heart-out” kind of horror film but rather, May tapped into something more primal and in the process, it shook me to the core more than any prior horror films shown in class. The movie disturbs more than it scares.
Before I proceed further to my review and my short analysis, I want to say that after a few weeks in class, I notice that the horror films in class may be categorized by how the class reacted. There are horror films that beg for the standard “shout-from-your-seats, hide-your-eyes” reaction, such as in the aforementioned Evil Dead and The Autopsy of Jane Doe. There are those that combine the standard horror film reactions but are tempered because of the film crossing “genres” in its efforts; examples include Triangle (which dabbles in science fiction elements) and The Innkeepers (which is unabashed about its comedic aspect). It Follows is a class of its own, eliciting shouts from the class but creates a more slow-burn approach; instead of relying on jump scares, the film paints the scenery and takes time for the audience’s fears to set in. Finally, there is the category which May belongs to: the films that are “exploitative”; these are the horror films that transgress the lines of accepted horror and scares in a more psychological manner. Along with May, the films that belong here are Deadgirl and Grace.
May cannot possibly work without the performance of Angela Bettis in the titular role. For a start, her appearance is already ghostly enough: a combination of high cheekbones and pale skin will always make for a sinister villain. But Bettis goes beyond just relying on her appearance. She is able to lend a human touch to her character, who could have been easily dismissed as a creepy outsider at first glance. Her May can be sincere and sweet, but also has a painful lack of social skills. It can be mostly attributed to a childhood revolving around her “lazy eye”, a condition that shunted her away from her peers. Due to having a lack of friends (except for a creepy doll named Suzie), she forms a warped sense of reality that becomes increasingly disturbing as the film goes by.
In connection with the previous paragraph, my personal favorite scene was when May watched Adam (Jeremy Sisto)’s film, Jack and Jill. In the film-within-a-film, the two lovers start with usual flirting and end up eating each other. Whereas Adam interprets this as disturbing, May interprets this as sweet; she saw the beauty in the message that the two lovers were so consumed in their love for each other. In this scene, May is able to show that she does have feelings. It is just unfortunate that her life’s circumstances led to her feelings being released in a form that is not socially normal.
Additionally, Angela Bettis’ performance adds an additional nuance to May during the final canto. With her love scorned by both Adam and Polly (Anna Faris), she goes on a rampage to kill them and take her favorite body parts from them. At first glance, what transpires in this scene is the stuff slasher films are made of; she uses multiple sharp objects to murder her victims in the most calculated and gory way possible. However, Bettis’ May changes from the shy but creepy girl into a confident movie “slasher”; she has embraced the darkness that she has not fully grasped until her killing spree. And what makes this brilliant is that Bettis convincingly makes this transformation. Instead of feeling forced, the transformation proves to be natural and in character.
Of course, May couldn’t be discussed without addressing its allusion to Frankenstein; after all, May’s final aim was to create a “friend” out of disparate body parts. Paul O’Flinn discussed how the 1931 Frankenstein film held a radically different message from its source material. The source material focused on the dangers of capitalism, of creating scientific progress for one’s personal gain. However, the film switches the Frankenstein middle-class parable into a populist one, in which Frankenstein’s monster is demonized and fought against by the populac. The movie even explicitly shows that the Frankenstein’s monster is “abnormal”, that his behavior is naturally deformed. This assertion by the film is radically different from the book version, in which the monster’s cycle of violence and revenge is a “product of his social circumstances” (O’Flinn, 108-110).
How does this connect then to May? In my humble opinion, the film is not about the Industrial Revolution unlike Mary Shelley’s novel. However, May is closer to the novel than the 1931 film. How so? May restores certain elements of the original tale. It can even be argued that May herself is similar to Frankenstein’s monster. From the beginning of the film, it is argued that May’s creepiness is not a result of nature but rather, of nurture. Her childhood experiences, her heartbreaks in adulthood, and the isolation she experienced all lead her to commit violence and revenge. Similar again to the novel’s monster, May is not reduced simply to being a monster; she is made “human” (O’Flinn, 111).
Furthermore, Frankenstein’s monster states this line from the book, “Every where I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend…” (O’Flinn, 110) May herself experiences the tribulations of the monster. Throughout the movie, she tries to be good in the way that she knows how it is to be good. She attempts to be a good lover to Adam. She attempts to be a good caretaker to her cat, Lupe. She attempts to be a good employee to her boss. However, misery does indeed make her a fiend, as her loneliness made her creepy and unable to function normally; for that, she was rejected and the only way for her to be happy was to “make a friend”.
The last line of the Frankenstein’s monster’s quote from the previous paragraph goes “… Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.” (O’Flinn, 110). This is where the real tragedy of May sets in. May creates her friend, sewing together body parts and even offering her good eye for her friend to see her. Her action (giving up her eye) proves to be fatal. However, the friend that she makes caresses her, finally making her happy. The tragedy here is that May finally can be virtuous, since her created friend finally “sees” (read: understands) her; unfortunately, she may already be dead before she becomes virtuous.
To synthesize my analysis of the tale of Frankenstein as contained in the film, it can be said that the friend that May creates is a literal allusion to Frankenstein’s monster. However, upon closer viewing, the REAL allusion to the Frankenstein’s monster is May. Her circumstances and her actions prove to be more parallel to Mary Shelley’s monster more than the 1931 Universal Studios edition.
Some horror films set out to scare. Some set out to make us think even. And some set out to disturb us and wake us from our slumbers. The good horror films can do one of those three things, but the great ones can do all those things together. And one of the great ones prove to be May.
“May (2002).”IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. Accessed 23Mar. 2017. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0303361/>
O’Flinn, Paul (1983). “Production and reproduction: The case of Frankenstein.” Horror, the film reader. Ed. Jancovich, M. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.