From Lucky McKee, who recently delivered the very good The Woods, which you should totally watch, comes his debut film. I knew that this was a well-regarded horror movie, and established a following for its star. Angela Bettis, who [probably based on this role] played Carrie White in the hideous TV remake of Carrie, where she was terrible, and also played the main character of Tobe Hooper’s Toolbox Murders, where she was again quite good.
This film opens with a fabulous [though very brief] credits sequence that is apparently stop-motion animated as pieces of fabric are stitched. We then meet May as a young girl who has a lazy eye—that means that one of her eyes is always turned toward her nose. When she goes to school she wears an eye patch, and her mother advises her: “Do you want to make friends? Then keep it covered,” as she brushes May’s hair over the patch. May doesn’t make friends, and we see her a while later, while her mother is giving her a big present [her father is also there, but doesn’t make much of an impression]. Mom says: “I always said, if you can’t find a friend, make one.” May then rises and rips the top of the wrapping paper. The mother is paralyzed with disappointment for a second, saying “Now it’s ruined.” She snaps out of it and gives May a doll in a glass case, which is named Susie. Mother says Susie was her best friend growing up. The doll has a very creepy innocent, terrified look on its face. May tries to take the doll out of the box, and the mother tells her she must never do that.
Okay, so let’s stop for a moment, because this stuff is crucially important. The mother has told May that she will not be able to make friends unless she covers the unique feature about herself, giving her shame over it. Then, the mother gives her a doll as a friend [insulting], and obviously has plans and presentations that can easily be “ruined,” causing great disappointment. May’s friend [who was supposedly the mother’s best friend] is a woman trapped in a glass case, who can never escape. So not only has the mother imparted a lot of social shame on little May, she has given her a portable mother figure, and a portrait of a woman who is in her place when she is trapped in a box, able to be looked at but never touched.
We then flash-forward to when May is in her early 20’s, working at a veterinary clinic with the hilarious Anna Faris. Now, for some reason I just LOVE Anna Faris. She has been the star of the entire Scary Movie series, and was also the bimbo starlet in Lost in Translation. Here she is a tawdry, irresponsible lesbian who comes on to May by saying “we should hang out and eat some melons one night.” Let me digress and say that as a gay man, this approach OFTEN works when attempting to take the next step with a straight co-worker. I can’t count the number of friends I’ve made by just casually offering; “You know, we should hang out one night and you can stuff a kielbasa down my throat.”
We become aware that a whole strain certain elements of this movie are meant to be understood as a comedy when first Polly, Anna Faris’ character, cannot understand the words of their Indian vet, and secondly when a guy comes in saying that when he came back from vacation, his dog only had three legs. “You know, I throw a stick and nothing… nothing happens!”
Anyway, so May, who has “dates” with guys she passes regularly on the street, has her eyes on Jeremy Sisto as Adam. She gets contact lenses [which corrects her lazy eye], dresses sexily [as the doll “watches”], and goes to the coffehouse where she waits for him. He comes in, and there is a painfully funny scene as she attempts to flaunt herself in front of him, and he doesn’t even notice. Finally he falls asleep, and she places her face in his upturned hand, making him rub her face. He’s charmed, but she runs off once he wakes. He then runs into her at the laundromat, where he finds that he has forgotten his detergent. “You can use me… I mean, mine,” says May. They have a date, wherein she says she’s weird, and he says “I like weird.” She says she has a gross story, which he also supposedly likes, and she tells this GROSS story about a dog running around with its guts hanging out. She invites him to dinner at her house, where the meal is accompanied by gatorade in wine glasses. He shows her a short film he made in which a man and a woman are making out and start eating each other while we hear this song: “My Baby Loves the Hanky-Panky.” They then make out, and May bites his lip, drawing blood. He pulls away, and she smears it all over her face “Like in your movie. I thought you liked weird.” “Not that weird,” he says, and leaves. I guess he’s just not that into cannibalism. As soon as he’s out the door we hear her screaming at her doll for giving her bad advice.
In here we have seen the director in a cameo as the guy making out with a woman in the elevator, and have found out that May likes cutting herself, and Polly can get into it a little bit, too. Polly also says “I like weird” at one point. During this time May has decided to volunteer to tutor blind kids.
SPOILERS > > >
Meanwhile the doll’s glass case is cracking and making alarming sounds. One day May’s cat rejects her, so she throws an ashtray at it and kills it. She carries it around like a pet—a live one, that is—for much of the rest of the movie. By now I started to ask myself: where are May’s parents? What happened to them? Because she doesn’t seem very well equipped to live by herself. Around this time, my attention somewhat starting to wander, thought: “May, why don’t you go on a killing spree?” I didn’t have to wait long.
May has discovered that Polly is sleeping with another woman, Ambrosia. She’s upset. First she offs this punk rocker guy who says “Man, I’m burning up. Do you have any ice cubes I could rub on my nipples?” Then Adam finds her reading in the park and says “What are you reading about?” “Amputation,” May responds. “Oh, is that for work?” “No,” she says, “just for fun.”
May then offs Polly and then Ambrosia. We suspect that she’s going to stitch all their body parts together, because she has been saying how much she likes “parts,” and kept complimenting people on specific parts of their body that she liked. She kills Adam and his new girlfriend.
Finally, we see that she has made a giant doll, with Susie’s eyes laid on top for eyes. But it doesn’t work. So May stabs her own eye out and lays it atop the new doll, screaming “see me!” She dies, and after death the doll reaches up and strokes her head. The end.
< < < SPOILERS END
It was good enough, it’s just that I think it could have been so much better. To me, it seemed really ABOUT the mother and how she imparted all of these impossible ideals, strange body issues, and shame into May. Her voice is then transferred into the doll, who we never hear, but we do hear May’s responses to her, and it sounds like the doll is giving her bad advice in order to keep her close, keep her from becoming independent and forming relationships with anyone else. But there’s just not enough of this to really firmly cement this content into place to the point where it gives a shape to the overall film… and it does start to feel a little meandering and shapeless. Maybe it was meant to be more of a comedy [i.e. loose] than I think, but I just think with the tiniest bit of tightening it would have been much improved.
That said, I think The Woods was a little better. It was just all-around more solid and built to an ending that made sense for the piece, although there were times in there where it seemed a little meandering as well. That movie also features a cold, bitchy mother and ineffectual father, and also has a cold, emotionless mother-replacement, though in this case a living woman, rather than a doll. So he seems to be into mothers and the damage they can unwittingly cause in their young girls. It makes me want to ask him if he’s seen The Killing Kind and What’s the Matter With Helen?
But overall, a very worthy watch that is kind of scary, kind of funny, has a good performance by Bettis… and where else are you going to see the Fabulous Anna Faris do so much real acting?
Yes, it’s good, funny and scary, but I would still watch The Woods first.
THE WOODS is by the same writer / director, and is thematically similar in ways. It’s about a girl at a mysterious boarding school, and sustains a mood of deep creepiness for most of its length.