The 2021 Sundance Film Festival has come to a close. It was a time to explore a new virtual reality when it came to sharing stories. A moment to reflect on how we experience and appreciate film and those that form a part of the teams that bring them to life. There were many films that were a true vision of what teamwork and a determined drive looked like. One that fit that description rather nicely was “Mayday.”
“Mayday” premiered at the 2021 festival under the U.S. Dramatic Competition. The film’s most accurate description is that of a “feminist fever dream and an ambitious reimagining of the war film” from a female perspective. The film itself is specifically a story surrounding a young woman named Ana (Grace Van Patten). After an unusual storm, she finds herself transported to an alternate world where it’s not really clear if she’s dead or alive. While there, she meets a crew of female soldiers that take her in. The entire film then follows these women as they face an endless war against men. The girls lure the men in, appearing to be damsels in distress when in reality they are more like sirens of the deep.
The film was directed by Karen Cinorre. When interviewed at Sundance during the “Mayday” Q&A, she revealed that many different works and concepts inspired her when making this film. Various mentions were that of classic films, astronomy, and Greek mythology—specifically the myth of the siren. There was also almost the presence of the essence that comes with stories like that of Peter Pan and the lost boys. The main one Cinorre attributed her war film to was “The Wizard of Oz.” She compared Ana to Dorothy. They are two women swept away into another world that is meant to teach them something. Cinorre admitted she found Dorothy’s ending to be quite sad, so she wanted to remedy this. Ana’s ending is quite positive overall.
While it is visually stunning, the story itself could have been better. It relies solely on metaphors and its message. The film is about a war between these women that have faced abuse and trauma in another life and men. Its purpose is not to send a message of hate. It is about finding empowerment in vulnerability. Despite this, being able to understand that this might be the takeaway Cinorre wants for the viewer, there are various beats that remain confusing. Specifically, when it came to Ana’s involvement with these women throughout the film.
“Mayday” is one that will resonate with many and will truly make the viewer feel empowered. Yet, there are moments when the film loses itself within its own ambitious nature. At times it is unclear what the purpose of Ana’s journey is until the end. However, the performances made up for the lack of a clear true North.
Mia Goth was spell-binding as Marsha, the ferocious leader of the group who serves as a foil to Ana’s character. She immediately takes Ana in and teaches her their ways, but that changes when Marsha feels threatened by Ana. The dynamic was one of the best parts of the film, earning Goth various iconic moments that were almost heart-stopping. It was easy to believe Goth’s character and perhaps sympathize with her, even if you might have been in disagreement with her intentions.
“Mayday” feels like the story young women would have wanted growing up. It is a unique and beautiful story that, despite the tangled plot, might inspire whoever allows themself to be swept up alongside Ana.
Josie Meléndez is a Puerto Rican screenwriter and film critic. Named an emerging content creator by NALIP and an emerging journalist by TIFF, she is also the founder of the Film Posers podcast, a platform hosted by four Boricuas dedicated to analyzing film and television from their cultural perspective. Meléndez is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association.