As in real life, any number of factors - nature or nurture based - can lead to neurotic and/or psychotic spells or outright behavior. Following any number of days, months or years of living under such conditions, there's almost always something that then sends a person suffering from that over the edge.
In the case of the title character in "May," it's the old saying of hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. A seriously disturbed loner - due to growing up with only an inaccessible doll as her "best friend" - all she wants is to be loved. But when a man and woman separately don't give her their undivided attention, it's psycho time.
Although clearly not treading novel territory, such a setup is obviously ripe with potential, whether as a black comedy, psychological drama or straight-out horror film. The movie tries to be a little of all three, but unfortunately doesn't succeed at any or a combination thereof, despite the intentions of writer/director Lucky McKee (making his feature debut in both seats) and star Angela Bettis ("Girl, Interrupted," "Bless the Child").
With a passing resemblance to last year's "Secretary" and even the old Stephen King classic, "Carrie" (in which Bettis played the title role in the recent TV version), McKee wastes no time in setting up the story. Through a quick series of somewhat disjointed flashbacks, we see that the central character's mental and social damage arose from, of all things, a lazy eye, a briefly overbearing mother and that glass-enclosed figurine.
For better or worse, and unlike Chucky or Fats (the ventriloquist dummy in "Magic"), the doll never amounts to anything more than a static symbolic representation of May's deranged mental state. Accordingly, and despite repeated shots of the homemade doll that would have you think otherwise, none of that material is remotely scary or even creepy. The same holds true for the rest of the film, unless one has a low tolerance level for a great deal of mostly unnecessary bloodletting and related gore.
The bigger problem is that the overall effort is not only slow and reeking of "low budgetitis," but is also about as predictable as they come. Pretty much from the get-go, McKee forsakes subtlety in favor of such obvious symbolism, foreshadowing and blatant hints that there's never any doubt about what will transpire.
Had the film been an interesting or moving psychological examination of the character, that might not have been such a big deal. Unfortunately, it's not, with the biggest flaw being that we never connect with and/or care about the character. Bettis does a decent job portraying such a person, but she's abandoned by the weak script much like her character and her search for love.
That's particularly true at the end when her character personality, demeanor and behavior take a turn for the confident, if gruesome and predictable. Although I could see it coming from the beginning of the film, I still didn't buy into the sudden transformation that - like much of the effort - seems to be trying too hard to shock the viewer, but nevertheless fails to do just that. The film also doesn't go far enough with its black comedy approach regarding the usual trapping of the genre. The result is that the picture doesn't work as well as it could or should have from that angle.
Beyond Bettis and that disappointingly dull doll, Anna Farris ("The Hot Chick," the "Scary Movie" films) and Jeremy Sisto ("Wrong Turn," "Angel Eyes") also join the act. Both play the protagonist's potential lovers, but Farris is far more interesting and believable than Sisto whose character suffers from a severe case of contrived and unconvincing behavior.
The film - part coming of age story, part psychological drama, and part, of all things, Frankenstein tale - certainly arrives preloaded with potential. It's just too bad that it isn't realized in this effort that never settles on its tone and/or what it wants to be. "May" rates as just a 3 out of 10.