Legendary horror director Alfred Hitchcock had a rule that doesn’t change with the passage of time: “There is no horror in the bang, just in the anticipation of it.”

 

If a man is stalking an innocent with a knife, that’s suspense. If he attacks them with the knife, that’s action. No horror movie ever became an all-time great without knowing how to create the former. But people today don’t get scared like they used to, and horror today often discards Hitchcock’s rule, relying on something easier to boost to challenge the nerves of its fans: taboo. Blood, pain, and mutilation are all becoming more and more common in horror, and while this usually doesn’t amount to a good or even scary movie, it can indeed challenge the nerves of its audience. What’s more, probably the reason today’s horror is so successful with teenagers, it gives the audience a sense that they’re breaking a rule, getting away with watching something they’re not supposed to. The fact that critics wouldn’t consider it “good” only makes it more rebellious.

 

True, some present day directors of slasher films will try to put quality into their movie, and some will even succeed. But those who make it a priority are not the ones distributors tend to bet their easy-earned money on. This is no more evident than in the near-thankless career of director Lucky Mckee, spent over the last ten years creating award-winning titles in the horror genre. His name may sound more like one you’d connect with the Leprechaun movies, but most of Mckee’s projects have garnered serious attention, if only briefly. His best, however, may still be his opener, named simply after the titular character, May.

            The movie: May’s childhood pushed her to be something of outcast. She had a lazy eye, which her doctor tried to fix by making her wear an eye patch, and the kids at school never bothered with her much beyond asking her if she was a pirate. Her mother was not only cold but also obsessive and compulsive. For May’s birthday, she gave her daughter the first doll she ever made, having always considered it her best friend, but she scolded May for “ruining” the wrapping paper in her attempt to open it. Still, she also gave her daughter this helpful advice; “If you can’t find a friend, make one.” Now, May has grown into a lonely young woman with a soft, vulnerable heart. But it pumps ice water through her veins.

Having finally solved her lazy eye problem with special contacts, May, now an experienced veterinarian living on her own, attempts to become more social. She still considers her mother’s doll to be her only friend, but she’s looking to branch out. Currently, she has her eye on a local mechanic named Adam.

“You know how when you meet someone and you think you like them, but then the more you talk to them you see parts you don’t like?” May says to her doll. “The boy I saw today is different. I like every part of him, especially his hands!”

 

Through its first act, the movie plays like a sort of black comedy. May is too shy to begin a relationship on her own, but she has a quality that draws people in. Her lesbian coworker named Polly, played by the indefinite good sport Anna Faris, is already growing fond of her quirks and becoming flirtatious; it turns out to be just one of the many things May is willing to go along with to make a friend. She even volunteers at daycare for blind children, managing to form a small bond with the standoffish member of the group. However, when she finally manages to talk to Adam, it seems to be a match made in heaven.

 

“You don’t think I’m weird?” She asks him as they share a snack in his workshop.

 

“I do think you’re weird.” He answers. “I like weird.”
Does he ever. His room is decked out with macabre posters and novelties. One of his favorite pastimes is watching revivals of cult films from the horror auteur Dario Argento. As a practical joke, he stabs May with a retractable plastic knife. He thinks it’s fun. And for a while it’s something they both can share; she’s so fascinated by his retractable knife, she borrows it to repeat the motion several times on both of them.

 

“You are perfect, aren’t you?” says May, intimately cradling his hand.

 

“Nobody’s perfect.” He answers.

 

“You are perfect,” she repeats insistently.

 

Where they miss each other is in the fact that May does not think “weird” is fun. She thinks it’s soothing. The first thing that gives Adam pause is May’s aggressive kissing, which ends their evening on an awkward note. And when he gives it another chance, she draws blood from his lip and seems more encouraged than apologetic for it. Unlike potential horror film victims before him, Adam is smart enough to know that this is where to draw the line.

 

It’s here that the movie begins documenting May’s trip down a path of insanity and horror. She tries to get back together with Adam, and he sweetly but prudently keeps his distance. She turns to Polly, who is happy to make May the number one person in her life but not the only one, which is something May can’t quite reconcile (not to mention that her complexion, despite a beautiful neck, is not so flawless as Adam’s). And her attempt at a show and tell session at the daycare with her mother’s doll ends about as badly as possible. All of these people in her life have pretty parts, but none of them are a pretty whole. Finally, she accidently scares a flirtatious punk boy, and he exceeds the number of times she can stand being called a freak. If you can’t find a friend, make one.

 

Its protagonist’s dilemma is ironically relevant in the fact that it’s hard to tell, at first, whether all the parts forming May are good ones. It doesn’t make the standard attempts to be suspenseful or intimidating. But it gets under the skin in a chilling fashion, building to a final shot that wouldn’t have worked in a lesser movie. Roger Ebert noted that it followed such big names as The Silence of the Lambs, Carrie, and Frankenstein in that the fear of the monster at the center is tied to a sense of understanding and even an element of sympathy. Whether May will encourage more revulsion or heartbreak by the time the screen cuts to black is a tossup dependent on the viewer.

 

The actors: There might be less to report here than there should be. Though her performance as May put Angela Bettis on the map, she remains confined to similar horror film projects, and her most notable appearances were probably in Mckee’s follow-up features. Jeremy Sisto, who played Adam, has gone on to appear in slightly more prominent movies and TV shows but largely as an easy-to-miss supporting player. Only Anna Faris continues to stand out as a celebrity, recently starring in The Dictator and reprising her role as Sam Sparks in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.

 

The director: Lucky Mckee’s career hasn’t actually been much different than that of Marcus Nispel, Steve Miner, Jonathan Liebesman, and other unknown names who make their living directing blood-spattered horror films, save for the fact that all of his movies are also virtually unknown to the public. The difference is that while all of the above worked to nab projects with such familiar names as Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Leatherface to draw a crowd, Mckee had nothing but the hope that he could generate enough hype to get people to see his movies.

 

He didn’t entirely fall short. Despite May going largely unseen at the time of its release, it has since garnered a cult following that put Mckee on the map. But though he’s gained some favorable reception, he has yet to build very far from it. His follow-up titled The Woods received little to no recognition, and though his co-directed Red (no, not that Red) received some awards, it still made no money. His latest outing The Woman, more infamous than it deserves by a longshot after its controversial debut in 2011, suggests him finally resorting to enticing conventional “gorehounds.”

 

 

Final score: 

 

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