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Sundance 2021 Review: 'Mayday' wants you to fight like a girl

Mary. Alpha. Yankee. Delta. Alpha. Yankee…

Grace Van Patten plays Ana in 'Mayday.'
(Image: © Courtesy of the Sundance Institute.)

Our Verdict

A surprisingly hopeful story told through a lens of feminine brutality and nonconformity.

For

  • 🚨A surprisingly hopeful story.
  • 🚨Strong performances across the board.
  • 🚨I'll always support heavy-handed feminist tales.
  • 🚨"In the dark I'll see the stars."

Against

  • 🚨A strange lack of WOC given the premise.
  • 🚨Doesn't succeed in saying everything it's trying to say as well as it may want to.

Mayday is part of our Sundance Film Festival 2021 coverage. You can find all of our reviews here.

Mary. Alpha. Yankee. Delta. Alpha. Yankee… Mayday. There’s a lot of power in that word. Particularly when it’s uttered in a demure female voice. From a young age, women are taught not to be too big, too loud, or too fierce. We’ve seen a cultural shift over the last two decades — one that fosters a space where films like this one can exist — but there’s still much work to be done. Ultimately, that’s what this film of Lost Girls explores, even if it does do so in an imperfect manner.

We open on Anastasia (Grace Van Patten) while she gets ready for work. She lives in her car, and is listening to warnings of an upcoming storm on the radio. Her boyfriend, Dimitri, (Théodore Pellerin) promises her a better tomorrow. But for now the two must go into work. Quickly, we see that this environment is mostly unthreatening for him, but a veritable minefield for her. It’s a tale as old as time — and not just because Karen Cinorre seems to be a fan of Anastasia.

Ana flees the inevitable abuse as the storm rages outside, eventually putting the wedding venue’s power on the fritz. She’s having a pretty bad day right up until she starts having a pretty weird one. You see, our protagonist is sucked into an oven and popped out into a magical world full of soldier women occupying an island at war. The enemy? Men. The objective? Kill them all.

“But not all men are ba—” no, no, dear. Hush up. Now’s not your time.

Mayday’s subject matter will likely be divisive even before you get to the fact that not everything the film is trying to say is said well. The basic premise, particularly in the beginning of Ana’s time with the island’s Lost Girls, is that women are in a war their whole lives. Every day men get to go about their day feeling largely safe while women have to navigate a constant warzone. The island is presented as a solution to that. Girls get brought to the front lines when the abuse of their reality becomes too much. Here, on the abandoned U boat on the coast, they’re able to hunt freely. They lure men to the rocky coast using their siren’s song of distress and giggle with glee as they sink to their demise.

Before long, Ana starts to feel that their leader’s tactics might be a bit extreme. Martha (Mia Goth), on the other hand, believes her methods are the only way. The women who come to the island were never given a chance to win and now, thanks to her and her counterparts, they get to feel on top for once. That power breaks down into a solid — albeit a bit messy — conversation about true goals of feminism and the methods that can help us achieve them.

Mayday is made up entirely of stylized filmmaking dripping in metaphor, which is to say that it’s very pretty to look at and — while it worked for me — it’s not going to work for everyone. It does seem strange that, in a story about women fleeing from their abusive lives, there are no on-screen Black women represented in the story. We do learn that there are other women across the island, but the fact that our lead bunch only had one woman of color (Havana Rose Liu as Bea) felt noticeable. Some will say that the story, though largely told through the aforementioned metaphors, is a bit heavy handed. I’m on board with heavy-handed feminist stories! But let’s get some intersectionality in that feminism!

That major critique aside, there's a lot to love here. Though told through grim methods, Mayday's story is a hopeful one that's propped up by exceptional performances from its lead cast. There's a lot of dark out there in the world. But in that darkness we get to see the stars.