Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, Gayle Rankin
Alex Garland’s latest film, Men, is a puzzle inside an enigma that’s presented as a body horror film. It’s about misogyny, grief, and guilt, while also being an intense horror film. It stars Jessie Buckley as Harper Marlowe, a widow who has rented out a house deep in the middle of the English countryside to heal from an abusive relationship. The house is owned by Geoffrey, who is played by Rory Kinnear, a walking cliché of an English countryman. Kinnear also plays several other members of the local village, as well as a naked man who is an interpretation of The Green Man.
On one side Men works as a creepy and unsettling horror film, for the first hour or so. There’s a creepy atmosphere, heightened by a demonic and imposing score from Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. Almost instantly you feel that Harper isn’t safe as she comes across the naked man while going out for a walk in the forest. There’s a growing sense of unease as he follows her back to her house. The tension builds and builds, as the film gets stranger and stranger. Sadly, everything is let down by the finale, as the scales tip too much towards the strange resulting in the horror and tension dissipating so quickly to the point that it becomes almost laughable.
The world presented in the film is bright, with a focus on nature filled with vibrant greens. It looks stunning and otherworldly, with a tunnel at one point almost feeling like a world to another dimension, that is the point that the film really starts to get weird and dreamlike. There’s a repeating motif of echoes, not just in the tunnel as Harper’s yells are echoed back to her, but also through the different men in the village that all look similar. There’s even a strange rebirth sequence, showing how toxic masculinity and characteristics are echoed throughout. Even though all the men that Kinnear plays are completely unique there’s something that combines them all, with their dismissal of Harper’s worry as she tells them about the man following her in the local pub.
Buckley is fantastic as Harper, completely believable in the role and feels authentic. As great as she is, the star of the show is still Rory Kinnear. Every single person he plays feels completely unique, fully built-up characters. They all have different mannerisms and qualities that make them feel like completely different characters, even though they all share the same face. It’s through this that you never feel Harper is safe, and how can you when the naked man following her shares a face with the policeman who arrests him.
Throughout the film there’s a series of flashbacks that slowly reveal what happened in Harper’s marriage to James (Paapa Essiedu). It takes a long time for everything to be revealed, with each flashback adding another piece to the puzzle. It’s not shown in a linear order, but just as things remind Harper about what happened. The slow reveal works really well.
Without getting too deep into spoilers, the film turns into a full-on body horror towards the end, which is when the film starts to unravel. It should be the height of tension and fear, but instead it starts to veer towards being strange for the sake of it, and really suffers for it. The gore doesn’t look or feel real enough to actually make it feel scary, and the best bits are earlier in the film. When Harper is being chased, the tension is heart racing, but all of that is lost. It also becomes hard to decipher and is trying too hard to be metaphorical and symbolic.
If you liked Mother! Then you may enjoy Men, but it’s no where near as good. If you’re looking for a straight-forward horror then this isn’t it. Garland is much more interested in presenting grief and guilt in a strange and at times wonderful way. The strongest moments are the chilling arguments between Harper and James, and it’s worth watching just for that. The way Garland builds up the horror, even if the pay-off isn’t that good, is still masterful, it’s just a shame the ending is disappointing.
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