Color, 2002, 94m. / Directed by Luckly McKee / Starring Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto / Lions Gate (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD5.1

A long and proud tradition in horror, the misfit movie ranges all the way from Lon Chaney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame through such youth angst classics as Carrie and Willard (or, on a different plane, Evilspeak and Fear No Evil). What's most interesting, of course, is that most of these don't feel like horror stories until the final act, when all hell finally breaks loose and lots of people die, horribly. (Or at least get pelted by lots of rats.) To such noble company we may also add May, a whimsical yet inherently sad fairy tale for gothic-minded adults that found its theatrical release hopes sabotaged by one of the most inept marketing strategies in cinema history. A surefire cult item in the making, May deserves better on home video and will most likely find its reputation improving via word of mouth once horror fans discover its peculiar charms.

Raised by an apparently dysfunctional mother, young May (Angela Bettis) works as a medical assistant in a veterinary office but only has a creepy doll encased in glass as a friend. Apart from her not terribly articulate doctor boss and the goofy lesbian receptionist (Scary Movie's Anna Farris), May has little contact with the outside world... until she meets Adam (Jeremy Sisto), a Dario Argento disciple with the most beautiful hands May's ever seen. After much reticent stalking she finally lands a couple of dates with the flyblown-haired lothario, but it all ends in tears when he shows her his gory homemade film project and she nearly bites his lip off while they're making out. From there on it's all downhill for poor May, who deals with her intense hunger for friendship in a highly unusual fashion.

Though filled with knowing references to horror films, May is certainly an original animal all its own. The three terrific lead performances lend much weight to what could have been a lackluster Tim Burton or Heathers knockoff, and the final act shows an admirable adherence to the classic conventions of horror. (Exactly how we shall not say; it's a series of surprises best experienced cold, though the packaging goes some way towards spoiling that.) Whether combating her lazy eye through contact lenses or having heart to heart rants with her doll, Bettis (who appropriately played Carrie in a TV remake) never fails to hold the viewer's attention as the film subtly shifts moods from darkly comic to tragic to terrifying. The onslaught of gore, when it comes, is completely earned, though perhaps the most disturbing image comes a bit earlier, which... well, if you've seen the gory school for the blind scene in Body Puzzle, this one takes it several nasty steps further. Also keep an eye out for a strange cameo by wooden indie favorite James Duval, sporting the weirdest hair in recent memory. That's not to say that May is entirely perfect; some of the tonal shifts will throw off many viewers, and the final scene, while effective and wholly appropriate, doesn't feel entirely earned; a bit more foreshadowing or perhaps a few additional seconds would have been highly satisfying.

Lions Gate's transfer of May presents this low budget gem on its best behavior, with rich bloody reds and solid blacks. Surround audio is limited mostly to the sing-song musical score, which is effective but a tad obvious in spots. The trailer is more than a little spoiler-packed, so approach with caution; the screener disc provided does not include a commentary track which will reportedly be included on the finished goods, but the movie itself is more than worth a look regardless of bells and whistles.

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