This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
Back in 2002, Californian director Lucky McKee released his first-ever feature film, May. Starring Anna Faris, Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto, and James Duval, the psychological horror follows Bettis as the titular May, a socially awkward veterinary student who dives to deep depths of depravity after developing a crush on Sisto's Adam.
The film became a cult classic, propelling McKee's career and leading him to direct the likes of The Woman, All Cheerleaders Must Die, The Woods, and his latest film, Old Man. More than 20 years since its release, May has received a second release from Second Sight Films, and McKee spoke to FILMHOUNDS all about the making of his feature debut as well as his career since.
May has received a second release more than 20 years since it first hit our screens. What is it like knowing that a whole new generation will be introduced to the film?
It's beautiful. May was the first feature my band of filmmaking friends and I got a chance to make together when we were starting out, so the fact that it's remembered at all is such a wonderful thing. It's surreal to watch all the interviews with my old friends on this new release. It's put me in tears more than once.
May was your feature debut, I was wondering how you developed the film from an idea to the finished product?
I made a short film during my sophomore year at film school – that was the first iteration of the story. It went over so well with my classmates that I chose it as my screenwriting project for the next year. It was the first screenplay I had written where it felt like I had accomplished what I set out to do. A couple of years after film school, a former classmate named Marius Balchunas was starting a production company and asked if I still wanted to make that old May script. Then we were off to the races.
The film became a cult classic among horror fans, what is it about the film that you think connects so strongly with viewers?
The closest I can figure is its central theme of loneliness.
And how do you feel May influenced your work going forward?
It gave me some much-needed confidence. It's such a stressful thing to make your first film. You're spending a lot of someone else's money and it's shocking that they feel they have a say in the way it's crafted. To learn to be diplomatic about that stuff and still end up with a film you're proud of is no small task. I've failed a few times in that regard since and it really hurts. With May, it was encouraging that I was able to write a script and realise it pretty close to what I'd hoped it would be. The biggest surprise was the strange sense of humour that bubbled up in it as we were making it. At a certain point afterward I tried to push that away but I realised it's just part of what I do and have embraced it ever since.
A lot of your films since – The Woman, Kindred Spirits, All Cheerleaders Must Die, and The Woods – focus on a female lead and tackle the feminine perspective. Why do you think you are drawn to this and how do you make these stories as authentic as they come across?
It's just what felt right. It seemed there was a much wider range of uncharted territory for stories centering on women. I was raised around almost exclusively women in my family so I'm sure that was a contributing factor as well.
Your most recent film, Old Man, is very different from this and focuses on two leading men in an intense horror thriller. What inspired this sort of change?
I loved Joel Veach's script. I found a personal connection to it pretty quickly, considering the few – very specific – types of men I had relationships with in my family. Specifically, my father and my grandfather, who are/were very much country boys.
Mark and Stephen made my life easy. They could do long runs of dialogue flawlessly, they both really love what they do, and they are great collaborators. I was also lucky in that I was able to work with a DP (director of photography) I've done a bunch of other features with – Alex Vendler. We have such a beautiful shorthand and our sensibilities really complement one another.
I read that this film was made during the height of the pandemic – what was that like for you and how did it affect the filmmaking process?
The pandemic gave us advantages we wouldn't have normally had. We never would have booked as nice of a soundstage or gotten the deals on crew and gear that we would have in pre-pandemic times. It was nerve-wracking as hell for all of us to leave our caves to make it but once the process got underway it was really quite joyous. It was such a thrill to be creating with a group of beautiful artists after two long years of isolation.
Lastly, I was wondering what is next for you and what projects you have in the pipeline?
I've got a very personal script that I've been holding in my pocket for decades that it looks like I may finally get to make in the right way. It's rooted in how I grew up in the sticks of Northern California and is the most important project in my life. If I get to make that film, everything after that will be a bonus.
May is available now on Limited and Standard Edition Blu-ray from Second Sight Films.