Mayday IFFR Film Review

★★

Directed by: #KarenCinorre

Written by: #KarenCinorre

Starring: #GraceVanPatten, #MiaGoth, #HavanaRoseLiu

Film Review by Lucy Clarke



Karen Cinorre’s feature debut Mayday, which was screened at both Rotterdam and Sundance, harks back to the cut-throat vengeance politics of Kill Bill, but with a feminist twist. This is an island of girls who are determined to seek revenge on all of mankind.


Ana (Grace Van Patten) works as a waitress. The restaurant is bleak and empty, and her boss leers at her. As she enters the kitchen and meets friendly chef, Max ( Zlatko Burić) she readies herself for the verbal and sexual abuse that she’ll encounter in the dining room. Most men here are viscously unpleasant. After her boss abuses her, Ana is mysteriously drawn to the oven in the empty kitchen. She climbs through it, as though she is the Grimm brothers' Gretel, but with an added boost of agency. On the other side, she finds herself marooned on an island surrounded by azure seas. There’s a mysterious unexplained war in the skies above, and the girls who inhabit the island have taken it upon themselves to kill any men who sail too close.


Ana joins a ragtag group of girls, led by the slightly psychopathic Marsha (Mia Goth). Mia Goth is predictably fantastic in the role, chewing up the scenery as her obsession with killing boys overwhelms her. The four of them live in a discarded U-Boat on the shore. Together, like reinvented sirens, they send out mayday calls. Ships respond, eager to help ladies in distress, and are promptly sent into stormy waters. Water spirit mythology has routinely demonised women. Cinorre’s script reclaims this folklore and allows these sirens to be the heroines of their own story.


With its harmonious palette of sandy browns and ocean blues, the beautiful cinematography can’t save this film. Glimpses of fantasy are left frustratingly unexplored. Ana might have travelled to the island like when Alice fell down the rabbit hole, but this world’s landscape is nowhere near as engaging as Wonderland. A magical dance number shows a glimmer of hope, but when the inventive ideas in this world resemble nothing more than 1940s Land Girls, it sticks out like a sore thumb. There’s a wealth of potential here that remains frustratingly untapped. Admittedly, it is joyfully fun watching these girls seek vengeance on men, but the film isn’t as grown up as the ideas lurking behind the screenplay. Many aspects of the story feel like they have been stripped from a mediocre YA blockbuster from the early 2010s. The characters are routine, and the dialogue recycled. The feminist messaging, while fun, doesn’t progress much further from a girls vs boys dynamic. These little problems create a domino effect which this film cannot escape from.


Although it’s bombastically fun and includes an excellent performance from Mia Goth, Mayday is frustratingly lacking. Despite a premise rich in imagination, there are moments when this film almost capsizes. The stumbling blocks are numerous, from the script to its own politics. Unfortunately, it repeats familiar tropes that viewers will have seen a million times before. The fascinating exploration of women in folklore is left dead in the water.