Lucky (2020)

“Who is that man?”, asks May Ryer, played by Brea Grant, who is also the writer of Natasha Kermani’s Lucky. May is herself a writer, penning how-to and self-help manuals for women in business, and is constantly having to hustle not just to create her work, but to promote it, to get it reprinted, to get her next commission. After a frustrating discussion with her agent at the beginning of the film as to how she should follow up her most recent book Go It Alone (she dismisses his suggestion of a sequel called Go It Alone Together), May gets into her car at the parking garage, drives home with Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit playing on the stereo – and disappears down her own disorienting rabbit hole. For that night, not only is she woken by a masked intruder (Hunter C. Smith) who breaks into the suburban house, but her husband Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh) calmly informs her: “Honey, that’s the Man. The Man that comes every night and tries to kill us.”

Together, they manage to kill the Man first – but his corpse then mysteriously disappears, and Ted, following an argument, himself takes off not long after, leaving May to ‘go it alone’ against the same murderous masked Man every night, in a sort of slasher-style Groundhog Day whose bludgeoning repetition leaves May feeling confused, isolated and exhausted. Soon the Man becomes just another irritating part of May’s routine, like the endless talks and book signings that she does by day as part of the struggle to maintain her brand and stay relevant in a hostile publishing environment. Note that another of May’s books has the significant title Problem Solving For Staying Alive, and that May’s literary agent uses the same word to describe her success in publishing that the police use to describe her survival of assault: ‘lucky’. 

Who indeed is that Man? On the one hand his supernatural status, his ubiquity and his refusal to stay dead mark him as a classic slasher (of the masked and silent variety, like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees) – although, for all that it is predatory, his constant pursuit of his final girl is also framed, in a qualified, highly problematic way, as romantic: for he comes to define, even to complete May. Yet on the other hand, at first May seems – impossibly – unaware that the Man has been coming for her every night; police, social workers and paramedics seem entirely unfazed by May’s implausible story of the Man, and at one point even break into song together; scenes arbitrarily change location with no regard for the conventions of topography; and May gradually realises that other women around her are also having to do nightly battle with their own personal demons/killers.

All this irrational surrealism signifies an oneiric, allegorical scenario in which the Man is less bog-standard slasher than monstrous metaphor. For here the Man embodies not only May’s daily grind against a system (‘the Man’) that is always wearing her down, but also every woman’s struggle in a world of constant undermining, aggression and oppression from men. Like PTSD, the Man comes back to haunt May – and other women – every night, forcing them to relive male violence done to them while leaving scars and despair. As part of their possibly never-ending recovery, these victims have to ‘take one day at a time’.  

Lucky is very different from Kermani’s feature debut Imitation Girl (2017), but retains that film’s focus on women’s alienated experience in a Man’s world. May is a sympathetic character, but her flaw is her reluctance to ‘go it alone together’, or to show solidarity with her fellow women against this Man of 1000 Faces, ensuring that she is condemned to suffer and endure by herself. Strong and resourceful, she can keep defeating him night after night, at least until such time as she eventually fails and is herself defeated – but he will never stop coming in one form or another until his prey joins forces with other women and brings down the whole structure of patriarchy. 

strap: Natasha Kermani’s allegorical slasher Lucky shows an independent, resourceful woman trying to bring down the Man by herself night after night.

© Anton Bitel