At a time when American low-budget horror films are too puny for the multiplex and too gauche for the arthouse crowd, writer-director Lucky McKee's May represents something rare and unfashionable–a smart, twisted little slasher comedy that doesn't skimp on the gore. Anomalies like these tend to be overrated or underrated, with the sheepish casting them off as distasteful and shocking while genre fans overreact to their originality and inspiration. But the truth is a patchwork of both, much like May itself. McKee's modern recasting of Frankenstein was constructed from a hodgepodge of borrowed parts, swiping superior bits from Carrie, Psycho, Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45, and much of the filmography of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. The resultant monster never quite stands on two legs, but the film's deadpan tone feeds on the disturbing imbalance between dark humor and psychodrama, hiding a few malevolent surprises within low-key comic situations. In a sly casting coup, Angela Bettis, who played the lead in the TV miniseries version of Carrie, again stars as a virginal wallflower who channels her thwarted desires and curdled sexuality into a nasty form of revenge. Ostracized from an early age, when the patch over her lazy eye made her look like a sad pirate, Bettis takes cold comfort in her only friend, a mirthless and creepy handmade doll sewn by her mother, who insisted it should stay in its display case. Later in life, Bettis' own talent with the needle earns her a job stitching up pets at an animal hospital, but her social life remains a bust, save for a few one-sided conversations with the hospital's talky receptionist (Scary Movie's Anna Faris). When Bettis develops a romantic obsession with Jeremy Sisto, her weird innocence initially appeals to him, but once their relationship sours, the lonely Bettis takes her mother's advice–"If you don't have friends, make them"–to its literal extreme. The brightest moments in May are usually the funny, incidental patches of dialogue and character shading, such as Bettis' matter-of-fact monologue about performing surgery on a dog with a twisted bowel, or a hilariously exacting look at Sisto's juvenile student film. But for all of McKee's keen attention to minor details, the key difference between May and Carrie (or even the underappreciated The Rage: Carrie 2) is that the former doesn't generate enough sympathy for Bettis, who remains alien and unknowable, less a misfit than a genuine creep. Without the pull of tragedy, the macabre payoff is merely gruesome, a dead-end finale that's not worth its weight in plasma.
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