The world of horror is vast. With so many films across the spectrum of budget, studio involvement, quality, availability, and, above all else, pure scare-the-living-shit-out-of-you-ness, it helps to have trained professionals parse through some of the older and/or lesser-known offerings. That's where Team Fangrrls comes in with Deep Cuts, our series dedicated to bringing the hidden gems of horror out of the vault and into your nightmares. Today, we're looking at modern day Frankenstein-inspired May.
"And someday, you will ache like I ache." - Hole, "Doll Parts"
Over the past two decades, we’ve seen the rise and rebuttal of the manic pixie dream girl, the adoption and rejection of the whimsiquirkalicious, adorkable she-ro. With that trope came the idea that unique is great as long as it’s cute and in service of her male protagonist, the real star of the show. That weird is wonderful—as long as it’s the right kind of weird.
Even though the MPDG was rebuked and cast off into cinematic history, as geek culture is commodified, that idea has never quite dissipated. As long as the “weird girl” exists on the screen, she will do so in an appealing way. She will be cute. She will never be too much. She will be palatable and worthy of our, the audience’s, affection and desire. And that is what a girl should be. Anything beyond that, well, she’s just too much.
That sickening notion is what appealed to me about Lucky McKee’s May. The external social need to be palatable and precious and nothing more was such a source of rage to me, even at 17-18 years old. This modern-day-Frankenstein-inspired film took that feeling, reached in, gouged its eye out and cuddled up with its corpse.
When we meet May, she’s a little girl wearing an eye patch to correct a lazy eye. Her mother is toxically fixated on perfection—from May’s eye to the doll she gives May for her birthday, a terrifying doll named Susie who is not allowed to leave her perfect glass case. As her mother tells her, “If you can’t find a friend, make one.”
When May is an adult, she in some ways lived life in that glass case alongside Susie, her only friend, never fully learning how to interact with other people. She’s well-meaning, if awkward—but not in the way movies have taught us is cute. She’s just a little too much. She playfully slaps just a little too hard. She compliments necks and hands a little too lovingly. When she first sees Jeremy Sisto’s Adam, she falls deep into infatuation, particularly with his hands. She sits near him at a cafe, saunters past him in a “sexy” walk like a child playing pretend. When he falls asleep at his table, she puts her face in his hand just to feel what that’s like. All the while, she barely notices Anna Faris's hypersexy Polly, who seems genuinely attracted to May—likely because May's mother seems the type who would instill a focus on the keeping-up-appearances kind of heteronormativity—except for her lovely neck.
The two meet for real at the laundromat. Adam finds May awkward, but cutely awkward. He thinks she’s a little weird, but in that adorable way—the way we are allowed to be weird. They go on a date, then back to his place. He makes sure she knows he's crazy and weird—apparently, the correct kind—in an effort to show off and turn her on. He even pretend-stabs her with a fake knife. They end up kissing. But the second she lets down her timidness and allows herself to get bold, he rejects her, asking, "Who taught you how to kiss?"
In that moment we see the cracks in May—literally. We learn that Susie isn't just a beloved proxy for a real friend. Over time, she's become a fracture of May, that she "taught" May to kiss and as such she is deserving of May's rage. As May descends further into palpable social anxiety and social betrayal over the course of the film, the sound of cracking glass reminds us that May, like Susie, was safer in her glass box. The world is not gentle. The world will break her.
Adam gives her another chance. He shows her a sexy cannibal short film he made and her reaction is weird but not the kind of weird he expected. They begin to have sex, and she bites him. "Like your movie." But she bites too hard; she is too much. She is the wrong kind of odd.
“May, this is weird.”
“You like weird.”
“Not that weird.”
And the cracks get bigger, louder.
May tries. She sees a little blind girl, Petey, and tries to befriend her. She comes to Petey's class, where the child makes her an ashtray. But an attempt to introduce the kids to Susie ends in horror. The glass box, Susie, and with them any chance of normal May had shatter at once, a mess of blood and pain and confusion. When she goes to Polly for her last chance at human connection, Polly has found a new friend to play with—one with "nice gams." When even her new cat rejects her, May throws the ashtray at it and kills it. In that moment, her home is filled with what will come to define May and the rest of the film: death and doll parts.
First, she meets James Duval, playing a Frankenstein-tattooed punk with good, useful arms. When he discovers the cat in the freezer, May rage-kills him, realizing quickly she can finally fulfill her mother’s words: if you can’t find a friend, make one.
Polly, with her beautiful, perfect neck and a penchant for May is next, followed by her girlfriend Ambrosia, she with the great legs. Finally, Adam and his perfect hands.
Subverting the headless woman trope, the film emphasizes everyone by their pieces. Throughout the film, these characters are all reduced to their parts before May literally reduces them to parts. With these parts—Polly's neck, Ambrosia's legs, the punk boy's arms replete with the Frankenstein tattoo, and, of course, Adam's hands—May creates Amy, a friend and masterpiece. The only person in May's entire world who won't think her weird or betray her.
“I don’t have to talk to you, do I. I can just feel. And you’ll feel it right here, too,” she says, touching her creation’s heart.
But then she makes a horrifying realization. Amy can’t see her. So May makes a sacrifice—she gouges out her lazy eye. As she dies, Adam’s hand, attached to James Duval’s arm, strokes her face. Like she always wanted.
"Fear not that I shall be the instrument of future mischief. My work is nearly complete. Neither yours nor any man's death is needed to consummate the series of my being and accomplish that which must be done, but it requires my own. Do not think that I shall be slow to perform this sacrifice." - Mary Shelley, Frankenstein