Written and Directed by Karen Cinorre.
Starring Grace Van Patten, Juliette Lewis, Mia Goth, SoKo, Théodore Pellerin, Havana Rose Liu, Frano Mašković, Hyoie O’Grady, Zlatko Burić, Nathaniel Allen, Adrian Pezdirc, and Francesco Piacentini-Smith.
Ana is transported to a dreamlike and dangerous land where she joins an army of girls engaged in a never-ending war. Though she finds strength in this exhilarating world, she realizes that she’s not the killer they want her to be.
Set in an unknown place and time (although the aesthetics strongly remember something along the lines of circa World War II), debut writer/director Karen Cinorre has an intoxicating fable approach to Mayday, involving processing trauma inside an alternate reality. It sometimes resembles Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch without the gonzo action, male gaze sexualization, and an upbeat soundtrack. With that said, one would assume that Mayday is richer in characterization and storytelling. Yet, it’s somehow not and is largely a vessel for ideas that never expand into anything captivating beyond stylistic visual flourishes.
The narrative is centered on Ana (Grace Van Patten, doing the most she can expressively, which doesn’t amount to much considering the weak writing for these characters), working alongside her good friend Dimitri (Théodore Pellerin) inside a banquet hall preparing for an upcoming wedding. The bride-to-be is Marsha (Mia Goth), seemingly in an abusive relationship with her groom (Hyoie O’Grady). Ana also suffers a horrific tragedy at the hands of her boss before getting started on the job, subsequently disorienting her vision of the world, leading her to crawl inside of a stove that magically leads to a war zone where women essentially behave like mythological sirens and control their destinies, independent and free, capable of taking up arms and more. It’s similar to Alice ending up in Wonderland, but here with implications of suicide transporting these women to a state of limbo.
The rebellious captain of the empowered quartet is Marsha, who also happens to be played by Mia Goth as a fierce warrior. There is an eccentricity to her performance that fits her charismatic commandership that is brimming with energy in ways everything else is lacking. Marsha is a thinly drawn tortured soul, but at least she’s a fun character to observe, which is more than can be said than most of the blank slates under her wing. The point of Mayday is for this character to bring Ana into that same fold, leading a revolution against men that have harmed (one of the only intriguing scenes of the movie sees Marsha teaching Ana the proper way to speak out a distress message into a microphone, as the ladies enjoy guiding men to certain riptide doom).
On paper, this is a fascinating world and, provided someone goes in blind like I did, once it becomes clear what’s going on, it’s easy to get swept up in all the possibilities for the story direction. Instead, Mayday stagnates after a few sequences of Ana learning some skills like handling a sniper rifle or swimming. It’s not a bad thing that the narrative is primarily freewheeling, but it’s not long before it feels like Karen Cinorre hasn’t fully mapped out this concept in her mind or on the page.
From there, there is some squabbling between the group of soldiers (also consisting of Havana Rose Liu and Soko, with a late appearance from reliable veteran Juliette Lewis that is mostly pointless) as it’s clear to anyone watching that Marsha is letting rage take hold and get the best of her. It may not be the most subtle or nuanced character arc, but at least someone gets something else to do. Ana also has an epiphany that she can still achieve a fulfilling life back in reality and wishes to return. As expected, there is a massive consequence for doing so that I won’t discuss here.
Mayday has several underwater vignettes shot with arresting poetry, beautiful scenery among mountains and lakes, bold ideas, and an undeniably tantalizing purpose for existing. It’s a shame that the film doesn’t feel as angry as Marsha’s character or try to build a sisterhood beyond developing new skills and pushing back against the patriarchy. That’s not to say women have to be defined by whatever tragic pasts they all come from, but there is so little going on substantially in Mayday that it registers as a tedious blur. You begin to enter your own alternate reality out of boredom.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com