Around 150 years ago, a British bloke by the name of Lewis Carrol published his children’s novel masterpiece Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The book, well-known by many as a delightful oeuvre of overactive imagination and whimsy, has touched the minds and souls of readers and artists across the globe. The book has been adapted into many different assortments of pop culture, from traditional text to screen adaptations to some clever reinventions of the novel’s traditional narrative. It has gone to the point where filmmakers have taken the original structure and entirely remodelled every single plot point to specifically craft a brand new fantasy tale of their own stature. In Karen Cinorre’s Mayday, the US-based filmmaker essentially did just that. In a film filtered with a period war aesthetic and other cultural connotations mixed in with the film’s hefty thematics, Mayday proves that the traditional Alice in Wonderland formula is still thriving in our current entertainment sphere.
Incorporating siren mythology into the film’s reminiscent structure, Cinorre builds what is essentially a giant allegory on the systematic retaliation against everyday misogyny and gender warfare. It’s a film that clever mixes high-detail production value to create an intense atmosphere alongside the heavy subject material. As the militia of women begin to suit up — all formed by a surprising indie-darling cast with big names such as Grace Van Patten, Soko, and Mia Goth — the more vigorous and violent the world building becomes. At no point does the senseless acts of violence committed feel glorified however. Cinorre draws a clear line, where it’s obvious enough that the film is also commenting on the dangers of gang rhetoric and the great lengths of desperation some could go to reach the point of complete absolution.
But even with the boastful plot semantics, there’s also a certain level of vagueness in the film’s thematics. Every character’s motivation and even action are all surface level — all for the purpose of moving the plot ever-so-slightly forward over further expanding on the film’s harrowing material. It’s a film that takes a rather safe approach at telling a radical story. Even with the impressive production value of period outfits, tech equipment, and even the design of the commonly used U-Boat set — the technical elements don’t add enough depth to the complex underdeveloped themes. It’s not like there aren’t any interesting elements already in place either. The film already has the aforementioned gang rhetoric point of view, that is wasted on needless world building to pack the film’s brief runtime.
Stunningly crafted from a visual point of view, but hollow in its development of tangible social commentary, Mayday is a well-intentioned mess. Far from being a disaster, Cinorre makes the most out of a modest independent film budget with atmospheric locations and minimal stunt work. For some, Mayday is bound to become the next cult favourite. For others including myself, it’s another slight attempt at social commentary that will eventually be forgotten in a pool of other short-lived films within the coming years.
Dir: Karen Cinorre
Scr: Karen Cinorre
Cast: Grace Van Patten, Mia Goth, Havana Rose Liu, Juliette Lewis
DOP: Sam Levy
Runtime: 100 minutes
Mayday premiered at this year’s historic Rotterdam Film Festival edition, as part of the Tiger Competition program. The film is currently seeking international distribution.