Movie Review: “Mayday” (2021)

More and more, people complain about hearing movie “spoilers.” The complaint that has gone hand-in-hand with the seemingly ever-increasing presence of massive event movies. Interestingly, audiences are lied to on a regular basis for these movies, with things like trailers and photography showing moments that don’t occur or cast and producers simply lying about what character an actor is portraying. Many folks want to be able to go into a movie with a completely clean slate, without any sort of understanding about what they are going to see and what it means. Reviews, in such instances, might be read afterwards; they become recaps by which to judge and compare understandings and opinions. This is instead of their existing to help individuals decide whether they should attend in the first place or relating it to other pieces of art or putting it in a larger context or other important aspects of criticism.

On the other hand, it is possible to ruin movies by telling too much, by delving too deep, by exploring something fully enough that any twists and turns are hidden. There is a careful titration that must occur, a balancing.

That long-winded introduction brings us to “Mayday,” the new film from writer-director Karen Cinorre. It is easy to tell you that “Mayday” stars Grace Van Patten as Ana, Mia Goth as Marsha, Soko as Gert, and Havana Rose Liu as Bea. It is easy to tell you that these four characters exist for much of the film in a world that is half-dream and half-nightmare. They are soldiers on a mission that is both of their own making and fully required of them; their enemy is men. All men. It doesn’t matter what uniform the men wear, they are the enemy.

Ana is at the center of the story and it is through her eyes that we see and come to understand this world. We are with Ana in her old life before she enters this new place at the start of the film. We see just why she heads to this alternate location, and we fully understand why she would want to learn from Marsha and take up arms.

It isn’t that Cinorre wants us to be comfortable with the choices Ana makes, the director just wants us to understand why Ana makes them. The difference is both crucial and one of the reasons “Mayday” works as well as it does.

Much of the movie is spent with Ana coming to grips with where she is and attempting to remove the shackles of her old life. She wants to understand and to find her strength. The journey is in her gaining this understanding and deciding what to do with it. Were I to delve into those decisions here, it would indeed be a spoiler. This does limit some of my ability to talk about the movie and the power of the decisions, but it is crucial nonetheless.

I can, however, now that I have discussed some of the movie’s strengths, look at its chief weakness – it is (and deliberately perhaps) a slow-paced movie. Yes, this is beneficial in some ways (we get some beautiful imagery), but it is also problematic. Ana spends an awfully long time learning about her new world and some of the moments and lessons feel either repeated and/or unnecessary. The lessons that play out take so long that we often find ourselves wondering more about the characters and what’s next for any/all of them than with whatever may be happening at the moment. It is unfortunate because Ana, Marsha, Gert, and Bea are a great foursome. They, along with the actors portraying them, make a great team. The movie’s pace, however, tends to lend more of a surface-level understanding of them and what is happening than truly providing the opportunity to explore each of them and they cry for that. They deserve more.

Crossing genres as it does, “Mayday” is a beautiful, horrible movie. It is one with lessons to impart and where the audience is required to both think and feel. We have kneejerk reactions to situations and then find ourselves constantly reassessing and there’s something wonderful in that. Perhaps the best way to understand it is exactly as we understand the characters – this is a film that is powerful and flawed, it asks us to think and wonder and feel while frustrating us as we do. It is fascinating and perplexing and with luck this review of it has been circumspect enough without being terribly befuddling.

photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

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