The Films of Lucky McKee
May (April 28/17)
Lucky McKee’s directorial debut, May follows Angela Bettis’ painfully shy and awkward title character as she goes about her daily life and eventually attempts to start a relationship with a hunky local mechanic (Jeremy Sisto’s Adam) – with the story, perhaps inevitably, taking a sinister turn after a series of personal misfortunes befall May. It’s fairly interesting to note that for the duration of its appropriately brief (yet somehow not brief enough) running time, May boasts the feel of a deliberately-paced and extremely low-key character study – as writer/director McKee places an almost total emphasis on the protagonist’s often uneventful day-to-day exploits. The effectiveness of Bettis’ immersive performance ensures that May is, in its early scenes, surprisingly engrossing, and there’s little doubt, as well, that McKee does a nice job of establishing May’s lonely environment and the sparse assortment of characters that surround her (including Anna Faris’ sexually aggressive co-worker). There’s little doubt, however, that May’s grip on the viewer slackens to an increasingly disheartening degree, as McKee's lackadaisical approach, as a result and to a growing extent, prevents the viewer from embracing the central character’s plight. The movie’s turn towards horror in its final stretch is consequently unable to make the impact that McKee is obviously striving for, with the third act, for the most part, falling completely flat and dragging to an almost unconscionable extent. It’s ultimately difficult to envision May working as anything but a short film, as it is, in the end, entirely clear that there’s just not enough there there to sustain a 93 minute runtime.
Long delayed and with good reason, The Woods is a well-made yet thoroughly impenetrable riff on Dario Argento's Suspiria from up-and-coming genre filmmaker Lucky McKee. The baffling storyline revolves around a rebellious teenager (played by Agnes Bruckner) who unwittingly finds herself sent to live at a sinister boarding school, where - as becomes obvious almost immediately - something very strange is afoot. Though McKee infuses The Woods with a memorable, visually-innovative sense of style, the filmmaker comes up short in terms of offering the viewer a single reason to actually care about any of this. That screenwriter David Ross has populated his script with unpleasant, broadly-drawn characters certainly doesn't help matters, nor does the unusually deliberate pace with which McKee allows the film to unfold. The film's various problems are exacerbated by the oppressively mysterious atmosphere, as McKee stresses dream sequences and is-it-real-or-isn't-it moments to such an extent that it's virtually impossible not to wish that the filmmaker would just get on with it already. The anti-climactic conclusion only cements The Woods' status as a complete misfire, though there's no denying that Bruce Campbell is a lot of fun in his lamentably small role (he even gets to wield an axe at one point!)
Based on Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee's (far superior) novel of the same name, The Woman follows country lawyer Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) as he captures a feral cannibal (Pollyanna McIntosh) and eventually attempts to tame her - with Chris' efforts both impressing and disgusting the various members of his family. Though filmmaker McKee remains quite faithful to the source material, The Woman suffers from a pervasively low-rent feel that remains a distraction from start to finish and, for the most part, prevents the viewer from connecting to either the material or the characters. The less-than-competent vibe, reflected in everything from the amateurish performances to the substandard visuals, results in an absence of momentum that proves disastrous, as McKee's ongoing efforts at establishing and sustaining an atmosphere of dread fall completely flat (ie there's just no intensity here). And although McIntosh is actually quite good in the title role - the actress delivers a fearsome, frightening performance - The Woman remains unable to elicit the sort of visceral reaction that McKee has surely intended. (And it's worth noting, too, that even the movie's gore-heavy stretches, particularly towards the end, manage to disappoint.) The end result is a horror effort that never comes close to living up to its potential, which is a shame, certainly, given the effectiveness of its literary inspiration.