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The Horror Of Empathy In Lucky McKee’s MAY, The Original May Queen And MORE!
The Bite #93

The Horror Of Empathy In Lucky McKee’s MAY, The Original May Queen And MORE!

January 21, 2020

In this Issue:


By Katie Rife*

Human beings like to use the word “inhuman” to describe those who have done terrible things. We have to. To acknowledge the humanity of someone who could, say, stab a stranger in the neck with a pair of scissors is to acknowledge your own potential for violence, as well as that of everyone around you. And how are you supposed to go about your day like everything is fine when the guy squeezing kiwis at the grocery store could have human heads in his freezer?

Lucky McKee’s 2002 film May lingers on this feeling that most of us would rather forget, burrowing deep into the disturbed psyche of its title character. We don’t just pity May, a profoundly lonely veterinary assistant whose only friend is a creepy doll she carries around in a glass case. We understand her, maybe even identify with her. One of the film’s editors, Rian Johnson, certainly remembers her fondly, including subtle nods to May in Brick and The Last Jedi. But that sympathy is only good up to a point. That’s where the horror comes in.

The plot of May is pretty simple; Girl meets boy, girl freaks out boy by biting his lip a little too hard after watching his student film about mutual cannibalism, boy ghosts girl, girl descends into delusion and violent depravity.

See where things start to get muddy?

McKee puts a lot of himself into the character of May, down to giving her a lazy eye just like he (and star Angela Bettis!) has in real life. And be honest: who among us wouldn’t scoot a little closer if we found out our crush was into Dario Argento?

There’s a version of this story where May and the object of her twisted affection, Adam (Jeremy Sisto), fall in love and open up a combination video store/taxidermy studio. With that in mind, where the film chooses to go instead is both darkly funny and profoundly sad. McKee builds from one to the other, weaving together John Waters-esque cringe comedy, empathetic character study, and neurotic indie romance before taking a hard turn into grotesque body horror. To borrow a phrase from true crime, May is a product killer, not a process killer; the film’s deaths are quick and efficient, and—at least in terms of the living—May inflicts her most disturbing violence on herself. May doesn’t kill for fun. She kills for company.

May takes its time building up details that Bettis underlines with movement and line readings, all of which come together in an oddly moving Grand Guignol finale. Under other circumstances, this scene could be shocking, even tasteless. But Bettis keeps the character grounded in a realistic, believable place, never going over the top even when the film around her does. We want to push her away, to call her a monster, to deny that she is one of our own. But May fixes us with an unblinking stare and pulls us in close, the scent of death wafting off of her like perfume.

*Katie Rife is senior writer for The A.V. Club, where she specializes in film. She is also head of programming for the Cinepocalypse genre festival in Chicago. This one time, she drank Malört with Ari Aster. It was very surreal.


Image Of The Week #93 - The Original May Queen - The Bite

Nothing But Respect For Our May Queen

Ari Aster shared his original concept art for Midsommar’s May Queen and now we stan Florence Pugh’s performance even more.



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Horror gamers rejoice; DOOM: Eternal has a trailer, and Forbes has the details.

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