At the beginning of Karen Cinnore‘s Mayday, Ana, a caterer living out of her car and beaten down by the casual misogyny that makes her life miserable, feels called to stick her head in an oven by an otherworldly voice. When she does so, she is transported to a world that resembles the first half of the 20th Century where she quickly falls in with a girl gang hell-bent on waging war on every man they see. Yes, seriously. To borrow a Japanese term used to describe anime, where this sort of plot is extremely pervasive, Mayday is an isekai: a story in which a protagonist is transported to another, fantastical world, most often for the purpose of learning something about themselves and their home world. In this shallow bit of science fiction, the ultimate goal of Ana’s journey to a war-filled afterlife is simply imparting a paper-thin message of “it gets better,” tossing aside its more radical and militant ideas.
Those ideas begin with Marsha, the leader of the crew Ana has fallen in with. It becomes clear over time that all the girls wound up here through suicide, and Marsha has whipped them into a revenge-taking frenzy against all men, training them in gunplay and guerilla warfare. Ana, possessing eyesight beyond the norm, will be Marsha’s sharpshooter, taking out encampments of enemy soldiers from afar with ease. On paper, this all sounds like a successful formula for a bit of entertaining spectacle. As realized, what little action the film sports is slack and dull, as if the film is formally scolding Marsha’s power fantasy. When Ana inevitably wants out of Marsha’s scorched Earth campaign, it’s quite easy for the viewer to align on her side, if only because nothing of any value is being left behind.
However, what Marsha represents, an ideology that takes revenge on entire structures rather than individual actors, is much more interesting and radical than Ana’s newfound moral compass which longs for her past life. Even if her methods are extreme and her campaign without end, at least it’s a point of view with backbone. In positioning Ana’s ultimate choice as one between waging Marsha’s war and returning to the life she hated, Mayday privileges the status quo over radical action, as if it is wagging a finger at those who might wish for a better world. Not a single one of Mayday’s ideas is novel or bold, and it instead presents revolutionary possibilities as nothing more than a daydream.
Published as part of Sundance Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 5.