Despite unique abstract storytelling, Karen Cinorre’s directorial debut Mayday lacks the nuance required to discuss contemporary feminism. Ariel Kling reviews.
In a fantastical world-building venture, Karen Cinorre makes her feature debut with Mayday, weaving in Greek mythology and classic literary elements to create a post-apocalyptic compendium of events. In tandem with these fleshed-out cultural allegories, Cinorre’s film fits neatly within category of Rape Revenge—albeit, more illusory and cryptic than recent titles such as Emerald Fennel’s Promising Young Woman.
The film begins with protagonist Ana waking up in the front seat of her car, parked in the lot of the seaside restaurant where she is a server. Once her shift begins her distress and sleep deprivation builds, and it is suggested that Ana is assaulted by her boss in a secluded room, though we never witness the acts themselves. These events are not very fluid to the viewer, and they shouldn’t be: the audience is meant to experience the same instability of the victim. While Ana works to quell the panic, characters that seem to be mere accessories later become important, including a frantic bride played by Mia Goth and a snide, lackadaisical bathroom attendant played by Juliette Lewis. In such a heightened emotional state, as the character’s anxiety waxes, she is lured into the kitchen through a harrowing call from the oven.
“Mary, alpha, yankee, delta, alpha, yankee.”
Weathering the electricity of the incoming storm, or perhaps riding on the current of her desire to escape, Ana is transported to an alternate, mystical realm, tied to our reality by war, submarines, vintage 1940s uniforms and archaic binary thinking. It is immediately clear that the film’s goals boast feminist intentions. However, this notion is far-fetched ideal when considering the outcome.
Moving out of the eye of the storm, Ana swims to an unnamed coastline and rather quickly finds herself settled in a U-boat where she is welcomed by a cohort of three other young women. The crew of arms is spearheaded by the Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl-character in Marsh (who had previously been the bride), and is backed by the more submissive Gert (Soko) and Bea (Havana Rose Liu). This ensemble screams Girl Power, but the immediate competitiveness between Ana and Marsh underscores how, so often, relationships between women are represented by misshapen attempts at social radicality.
The Greek mythology comes into play when it is revealed that the women act as sirens, luring male sailors to their macabre seaside death. The impetus behind the precarious politics of the film is never revealed, though we can infer by the film’s opening scenes that the battle is an allegory set to seek revenge due to gender-based violence. The way this is carried out is, however, very reductive. Ana’s assimilation in this battle-of-the-sexes Armageddon is demonstrated by the ‘us versus them’ mentality that is fueling their war. Marsha uses her radio system to do the luring, reciting the coded message of “Mary, alpha, yankee, delta, alpha, yankee” in a repeated fashion, while Ana is the designated sharpshooter of the group.
Accented by the recurring ‘I’m different from other girls’ line, the political subtext of the film is, quite frankly, moot. The feminist regalia that Cinorre is trying to achieve may have been revolutionary during the Second Wave, perhaps even during the Third Wave, but from a contemporary standpoint, this odd dreamscape simply lacks depth and nuance, which goes unaided by the disjointed plot.
On the surface, Cinorre has a precocious, yet well-defined style, yielding the precious aesthetic of Peter Pan-meets-Moonrise Kingdom. Neverland, here, is undeniably well constructed, and the parallels between the two settings is fluidly tied by the presence of the sea. The layer of escapism from trauma is perhaps the most rich in the film’s stratification, though it is mostly bypassed by other, ineffectual narrative elements.
Mayday does achieve an individuality in the feminist sense solely by its abstractness, though the distance taken along with the maladroit gender subtext is both unfulfilling and disappointing.
Words by Ariel Kling
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