SUNDANCE REVIEW: ‘Mayday’ (2021) A Spellbinding Genre Defying Treat

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Abiding by its own cinematic rules, Cinorre’s Mayday is a tonally adventurous genre-blending women-focused debut”

In Karen Cinorre’s remarkable first feature, warnings of an approaching storm are the early signs that something strange is brewing. When Ana (Grace Van Patten) hides in the backroom of her workplace to cry, she is electrocuted and transported to an otherworldly realm where she gets acquainted with Marsha (Mia Goth), the leader of an all-women army fighting an endless war.

Sisterhood reigns supreme in Mayday. Ana quickly finds belonging on the women-inhabited island. She easily assimilates with the other girls; Bea (Havana Rose Liu), whose pure innocence is beautifully fragile, and Gert (Soko) whose hard exterior is her uncompromising layer of protection. Marsha, their fearless and ballsy leader, sees Ana’s potential as a sniper and shows her their ways; like sirens, they lure men with their soft cries of “mayday.” Pretending to be damsels in distress, they sink ships and shoot the leftover men who try to crawl from the ocean. When Ana begins to wonder if she is the ruthless killer they’ve made her out to be, she must decide which path to follow.

“You’ve been in a war your whole life. You just didn’t know it.” It is Marsha who is blessed with some of the most compelling but obvious lines from Cinorre’s allegorical script. This magical narrative is intoxicatingly captivating in its exploration of young women navigating their desires and confronting autonomy in a refreshingly transformative defile of expectation. At times, this formidable debut does wander in a plethora of different directions, trying to over-achieve. Though, it’s re-shaping of the war film as a feminist fairytale is inspired, it is the notion of an ‘unending war’ – not dissimilar to the constant battle against the patriarchy – that comes to define Mayday‘s omnipresent rejection of men. Spanning genre identity, Mayday takes the framework of a war film and applies a coming-of-age lens to investigate the bond between young women when their innate mindsets of patriarchal society are redefined.

Mia Goth as Marsha with a  cigarette in her mouth, guns in both her hands. she is mid-spin towards the camera with a long coat and standing on a rock with an ocean behind her
Mia Goth as Marsha. Image Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

Mayday shows natural tenderness paired with an adolescent ferociousness, a multifaceted and divisive portrayal of young women. It embodies a Peter Pan-like transfixing fantasy that finds light in the darkness and stars in the night sky. Both Van Patten and Goth are at the helm of Mayday, though the entire cast is matched by brilliant performances. Costume designer Ola Staszko’s does a wonderful job creating the women’s emblematic ‘uniforms.’ Like a Brownie camp, but welding guns, their costume attire is an extension of their feminine warrior. Additionally, cinematographer Sam Levy shoots through an atmospherically stylised lens that gives Mayday a sensory element that comes in surging waves. Shot like a dream, Mayday is a portal into the magical but wild lives of young womanhood.

Abiding by its own cinematic rules, Cinorre’s film is a tonally adventurous genre-blending women-focused debut. Impressively navigating an isolated experience of matriarchal community, Mayday offers itself as a fantastical depiction of women who can kill and cuddle surrounded by stunning visuals in a dreamy, original world.

Director: Karen Cinorre

Producers: Jonah Disend, Lucas Joaquin, Karen Cinorre, Sam Levy

Cast: Grace Van Patten, Mia Goth, Havana Rose Liu, Soko, Théodore Pellerin, Juliette Lewis

Header Image Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.