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Sundance 2021 ‘Mayday’ Review: Impressive Debut Gets Lost in Its Own Message

Sundance

A dimension where stars swim in the sky and girls fight an unending war that has no placeable beginning. Their voices swarm together along the coast as they call out to ships at sea, coaxing them into the deadly storms that rage just offshore. In one world Ana (Grace Van Patten) crawls into an oven and in the next moment floats ashore here, this place of lost girls and a new kind of belonging. She can hardly remember anything of who she was, but is told that she deserves a better story anyway. 

Ana allows their leader Marsha (Mia Goth) to mold her into a sniper and learns to weaponize her femininity as all the other girls have. Their siren song is the way they convince men of their helplessness, only for the girls to drag them to their deaths. Their guns are an extension of their power and voice. Settling into a refreshing companionship with the girls, Ana digs up some new and playful piece of herself, but their war seems infinite and any moment of peace is fleeting. There are always more men to lure and kill. 

The more ethically palatable Gert (SoKo) and Bea (Havana Rose Liu) ease Ana along, giving her space to process her own morality, but Marsha kills gleefully and without restraint. She expects everyone else to do the same. Although she relishes in fighting against predatory male behavior, death and killing quickly begin to disagree with Ana, who lacks the ruthless mettle that Marsha demands. That dangerous fire only emerges when she gets protective over herself and the other girls, a trait that is eventually exploited. Marsha finds strength in her anger and search for vengeance, but Ana finds hers in affection and emotional connection. In fact, all four of the women appear to be manifestations of different reactions to hurt and misogyny. Marsha runs off of primal instinct and anger, Bea spends half of her life dreaming, Gert shuts herself down so she can pour all of her effort into protecting others, and Ana finds the good. 

Mayday is most essentially an amalgamation of fairy tales and gendered myths, all of which get reworked into something enchanting. Marked by gentle, steady crossfades and a score that resounds beautifully, the film is a truly good feature debut by Karen Cinorre. It is mystical and atmospheric with captivating cinematography. Its main fault lies with the script. The film holds several different complex commentaries in its grasp, yet never manages to fully flesh out any of them. At times, the feminist allegory feels thematically overloaded and unsure of what it wants to prioritize: abuse, societal convention, suicide, bodily autonomy or any of the other things it attempts to progress. It wanders too much, getting lost in everything it wishes to say. 

Even so, there is an energy that keeps it going. It might be all the homoeroticism Goth brings to Marsha (which is, by the way, an insane performance) or the distinctive tonality of the dreamscape or even the promise of Juliette Lewis in the latter half. Mayday is a bold film that shines brightly despite losing some of its daring as the narrative progresses. 

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Jenna Kalishman

Jenna Kalishman is a writer and student at Colorado College pursuing English and film studies. She especially loves morally questionable female characters, Stevie Nicks, sapphic yearning, and Rachel Weisz's energy in The Favourite.

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