Movie Review: ‘Men’

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, Gayle Rankin

Plot: A grieving widow takes a trip to rural England to process her recent trauma only to become frustrated, and then fearful, of the attitudes and behaviour of the local men.

Review: There’s a small handful of film-makers whose names immediately pique our interest whenever their new project is announced. These include Edgar Wright, Quentin Tarantino and this film’s director Alex Garland. Having been involved in writing and directing in a string of hits from 28 Days Later through to Ex Machina and Annihilation. He’s a consistently solid creative, so when we saw he was putting together an A24 horror movie about misogyny we were very much on board. That’s a recipe for success, and although the set-up and performances are on point the final act takes a turn into the surreal that doesn’t provide satisfaction to the viewer.

Our lead is Harper (Buckley), a woman who is trying to put her life and mental state back together after her attempt to leave her abusive husband resulted in his death. Haunted by these events, and the visual of him in his final moments, Harper retreats to an isolated manor house in the countryside. Upon her arrival, Harper meets the caretaker Geoffrey (Kinnear) and settles in to a holiday of long walks and piano. Her time is quickly disrupted with the recurring appearance of a naked, scarred man in her garden resulting in police intervention.

From the disinterested police, creepy vicar, abusive youth and ‘friendly’ caretaker, Harper becomes increasingly frustrated with the attitudes of those around her in the village. First thing worth noting here is that all the characters in the village appear to be male (with one brief exception of a policewoman), and all of them are played by Rory Kinnear. Both him and Buckley are phenomenal in carrying this complex film, and Kinnear gets special mention for taking on multiple roles and giving them each a distinctive character regardless of how small the part is. They also keep the scenes of misogyny subtle and grounded in realism, presented as micro-aggressions from well-meaning folk rather than cartoonish representations.

There’s a sense of dread throughout the first hour of this film, as Harper’s experience is intruded upon by the men of the village. When she is put in genuine danger by the creepy naked man, her fears are played down or dismissed while the police fail to take her seriously or the caretaker sees it as an opportunity to demonstrate his bravado. With this creeping paranoia we get a series of beautiful visuals and landscapes, everything build around an autumn colour scheme, laying the groundwork for a surreal turn late in the film.

Then we get to the finale and things take a turn for the…interesting. Visuals concerning the mythological Green Man have been seeded (boom boom) throughout the film, leading to the naked figure haunting the manor garden adopting this identity by weaving leaves into hi face. A series of increasingly upsetting and disturbing events end with the green man…birthing a man of the village who in turn births another, and so forth over the course of several minutes of screen time. It certainly takes the prize for most graphic birth scene in modern horror, even though it feature Rory Kinnear birthing a line of doppelgängers. And we thought it was weird when he fucked a pig in Black Mirror.

Much like Sunshine, which was written by Garland and directed by Danny Boyle, the tonal shift of the third act creates a disconnect between the story up to this point and the heavily symbolic conclusion. The intent behind this sequence is not entirely clear, with the misogyny themes seeming to be put aside to focus on the process of grief Harper is experiencing. As powerful and effective as the visuals and performances are up to this point, it’s difficult to feel satisfied with the ambiguous and disturbing ending.

Worth a look if you prefer your horror on the arty side, otherwise a bit tricky to digest.

Rating: SIX out of TEN