T.The ancient Greek myth of the sirens, the half-woman, half-bird-monster, whose fragrant songs lured men to shipwrecked deaths on their shores, threw desires dangerous by nature, femininity like bait. The story is long overdue for a retelling along the lines of Madeline Miller’s bestseller Circe, which reinterpreted the myth of the under-studied Odyssey Sorceress from the perspective of a chameleonic, independent, traumatized goddess. Such a new rework is one of many promising ideas underlying Mayday, the atmospheric, if often airless, feature film debut of author and director Karen Cinorre. There is great potential to plumb the history of the sirens for motivations masked by centuries of inattention to take care of the scars that fester in tremendous anger. But his tantalizing imagery far surpasses his sparse handwriting, which pays more attention to the specter of rape and violence than the female characters themselves and, disappointingly, combines broad gestures with past traumas with depth.
The superficiality is partly thanks to Mayday’s leap from one surreal world to another, with the ambitious exploration of healing as a sororal dive through the psyche is hard to anchor. The film opens in an unnamed oceanfront restaurant in an unidentifiable location and time, with Anastasia (Grace Van Patten, an annoying Shailene Woodley doppelganger) acting as the server. The opening sequence is scary and unfounded and lightbulbs flicker. It is implied that Ana, upset and desperate for unclear reasons, is being attacked by her boss in a back room – he goes in where she is alone, the camera does not. Shortly thereafter, a military mayday call (“Mary, Alpha, Yankee, Delta, Alpha, Yankee”) by a woman with a voice best described as a premonition for ASMR waves Ana into an oven (little about this initial sequence makes sense right now, including how Ana’s trip to the furnace ends up in an ocean).
Ana wakes up on a distant island (presumably in the Mediterranean) where she meets the mysterious Marsha (Mia Goth), the nervous bride from the first scene who became the commander of a stranded submarine from World War II. The images are lush and attentive, tenderly lavish cinematic moments – Marsha teaches Ana to swim, Ana’s dream of speeding through a tunnel in a car – that lack tenderness, as she little Ana’s marooning, the logic of this surreal dream landscape explain the source of Marsha’s palpable fear or any tangible details of the stranded women and the bonds they create in general. In the first half of the film, Mayday’s vision slowly fuses: Ana’s attempted suicide has brought her into a kind of psychotic purgatory (without war) for women with unresolved trauma.
Marsha and her deputies Gert (Soko) and Bea (Havana Rose Liu) follow storms and lure soldiers with the breathless Mayday shout that casts Ana (a detail of Cinorre) under her spell drew from exploring the use of women’s radio voices as weapons during World War II – the detached female voice a tool for demoralizing the enemy). Men respond to their quietly delivered requests and flounder on the rocks; Those who come ashore, increasingly characters from Ana’s real life in the hotel, are unceremoniously killed and stripped for goods (the stranded women lose most of their memories in the island’s suicide portal, and Cinorre’s script unfortunately falls back on this slate slate which gives only a few details about Ana’s relationships).
Marsha adds a touch of rape revenge to the guerrilla existence of the sorority that is thick but close-up – girls are excellent snipers, she says, because they can hold uncomfortable positions for hours and become invisible. “You have to stop hurting yourself and hurting others,” she tells Ana when the newbie shoots himself, shooting men encamped on the island, and sparking a power struggle that eventually merges into Ana’s resolution, the island to leave their real life and return to the promise of light. Again, this is more gesture than detail; A suitor / friend, Dimitri (Théodore Pellerin), waves to her from the depths of the sea / her psyche – one and the same in this depiction – but Ana’s character is so unspecific that her transformation from a cliff into the unknown feels sluggish .
Mayday as a whole revolves around a fascinating concept: the processing of trauma as literal purgatory, the burdens of female anger, bitterness and grief with given bodies and an island to roam. But the really promising ideas are presented with poor precision and a critically misapplied focus – like the most recent ones Promising young womanMayday, in which the female protagonist is fully consumed by the rape revenge conspiracy, has a strong feminist premise but ultimately privileges the long, endless trail of violence against women against the female characters themselves. In Mayday’s vision of healing as otherworldly journey there is potential, and certainly in Cinorre’s inventive, attentive direction, which deserves another characteristic. Mayday suggests the ability to heal through community, the ability of women to build one another out of self-destruction. It’s a shame that ambitious visions don’t extend to their characters – where they’re from, who and what they love, the real experiences that affect their resilience. When Gert encouraged Ana to remember who she is when she plans to escape in the last third of the film, I had to ask: Who is she? I wish I knew