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Men Review

May 23, 2022 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Men Image Credit: A24 Films
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Men Review  

* Jessie Buckley as Harper Marlowe
* Rory Kinnear as Geoffrey/Various other men
* Paapa Essiedu as James Marlowe
* Gayle Rankin as Riley

Story: In the aftermath of a personal tragedy, Harper (Jessie Buckley) retreats alone to the beautiful English countryside, hoping to have found a place to heal. But someone or something from the surrounding woods appears to be stalking her. What begins as simmering dread becomes a fully-formed nightmare, inhabited by her darkest memories and fears in visionary filmmaker Alex Garland’s (Ex Machina, Annihilation) feverish, shape-shifting new horror film.

To say that A24 Films has a reputation would be an understatement. They’ve become known as an arthouse studio with films that are inaccessible for casual audiences. This isn’t exactly true, because they’ve released a wide variety of different types of movies, including this year’s likely best movie, Everything, Everywhere All At Once. But then not everyone likes slow-moving horror, and there are others who think horror has to be gore and jump scares or it isn’t horror. So A24 puts out Hereditary and The Witch and the unreasonable backlash to those movies helps give the impression that A24 equals dull, dreary, arthouse horror. This is the same studio that also put out Green Room and Tusk, two movies that are anything but that.

There is a point to the rant. It’s that Men, the newest film from Alex Garland, isn’t going to do anything to dispel that reputation. You likely have an idea from the trailer of what you’re getting. It turns out that idea is wrong, because this is not the movie that you think it is. It’s a movie that by its very title suggests there’s some sort of message behind it. Perhaps there is, but that message is clouded by a story that goes completely off the rails in the third act, when it embraces the strange and bizarre a little too much.

As a writer, Garland had already given horror fans the all-time classic 28 Days Later and action movie fans the criminally underrated Dredd. Then, he switched to directing and knocked out two great films in their own right: Ex-Machina and Annihilation. The latter of which was one of the scariest films in its decade thanks to its assault on the senses (and that bear). So there would rightfully be some high expectations with Men, and Garland almost delivers on them. Perhaps I should explain.

First of all, if you’re thinking this is some sort of blanket statement on how men treat women, a sort of feminist folk horror, you’re probably wrong. Or maybe you’re right. It’s honestly hard to tell what Garland is trying to say in this movie. You likely haven’t seen a lot of promotion for this because studio executives were likely hard-pressed to figure out how to even advertise it.

The movie follows a woman who goes to the country on a vacation after the passing of her husband. Whether or not he killed himself or not seems to be open to interpretation. As she deals with the guilt of that, she comes across several men in the nearby village (all played by Rory Kinnear), who treat her with varying levels of negativity. Geoffrey is the nicest, although even he comes off as a creep at times. The men all seem to act sexually aggressive, hostile or dismissive. And for some reason they all have the same face, which is never explained.

It should be said, for this movie’s story flaws (and it has plenty), there are two places where it shines. The cinematography is beautiful. Garland really takes advantage of his location and we get some great, moody shots which show off the setting. I’d certainly wouldn’t mind vacationing there if I had the chance. There are also some great suspenseful shots, as a threatening presence follows our protagonist without her being aware at the time. No jump scares needed, just a whole lot of anxiety as this bizarre man lurks about the property. Garland’s direction itself is as good as it’s always been.

The acting is also great. Kinnear shows off his range in playing a variety of men, none of whom seem particularly trustworthy. He manages to make them all feel different, even though none of them are really that different, through his layered, nuanced performances. Jessie Buckley is the star of the show, of course, doing her best to elevate the script. Harper has been through a lot and it shows by how exhausted Buckley seems. Whether she has to act out anger, despair or fear, there’s just the feeling that Harper has just had enough of this. I think Buckley should get another chance to play a lead in a horror film because she really does nail it here.

The movie’s biggest problem is the script and the third act. The script itself is full of different ideas. The movie seems to want to have a feminist message, or some sort of message on gender. Or maybe it’s about how appearances can be deceiving. Or maybe it’s a story about guilt. It’s really hard to tell what it is because there are times where I’m not even sure Men knows what movie it’s trying to be. As stated, it’s not an easily digested film. It would be hard to call it boring, because there’s a lot going on. But at the same time, if you don’t really understand what’s going on, you might lose interest.

It also wants to be a folk horror film. There’s a lot of allusions to the Greek god Pan, or at least a monster that resembles him. It’s thrown into the hodgepodge of half-baked ideas that never quite gel together. All told, it’s an aggravating experience to want to like a movie but the movie itself being so confusing that it doesn’t let you. You might be reminded of 2020’s Lucky, another movie that tried very hard to depict the experience women go through before, during and after hostile encounters with the opposite sex. If you thought that movie was a little too subtle, you’ll find yourself increasingly frustrated with Men.

Maybe that’s the point. Men are pretty frustrating, I’m told.

The final score: review Not So Good
The 411
Men is a frustrating horror experience that will confuse and irritate most viewers. There is a message here, or perhaps several messages, but they all get lost in translation and a nonsensical third act. That said, Alex Garland's direction is still great, as are the performances of Rory Kinnear and Jessie Buckley. It's not a total loss, but this is a movie that will prove divisive at best.

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Men, Joseph Lee