Men tells the story of Harper (Jessie Buckley), a distraught woman who is caught in the aftermath of her husband James (Pappa Essiedu), who had tragically committed suicide after a marital dispute. She takes it upon herself to grant herself a holiday by taking refuge in a manor by a countryside village by housesitting it. With the help of the rickety caretaker Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), she finds herself to be in the perfect environment for rest and relaxation.
But strange things happen when she goes out of the house and takes a stroll in the lush forest around the manor; things that happen to involve men. But what makes it all peculiar is that all the men happen to have the same face.
Men is the latest film from Alex Garland; the creative mind behind such acclaimed stories like 28 Days Later, Ex Machina, Annihilation and others. The prospect of him making a horror film that veers towards dark fantasy is quite intriguing. Does Men live up to the promise of Garland’s prior work?
To start off on a positive note, the film does feature marvellous production values that support Garland’s foreboding vision; particularly in the visuals. The cinematography by Rob Hardy elicits an eerie, ethereal and unfamiliar beauty that provides symbolic weight to Garland’s leanings; particularly when he delves into the divide between religion and nature. The greens and valleys all feel tactile in the sense that you could almost think you are breathing the same air. While the man-made settings like the manor and the church all feel contained and restrictive, as if our characters are trapped in a box that we are all witnessing.
The performances are stellar from across the board. However, the major credit goes to the two leads. Kinnear is clearly having a fun time playing multiple roles and embodies them with relish. Buckley does a great job in expressing the inner turmoil of grief and anger as to the loss of her husband as well as questioning the position she is in; which is why does she have to pay the price for her husband’s doing.
On face value, the prerequisites of horror (blood, gore, mythology) shown here are enjoyably gruesome. One particularly memorable moment involves a knife and a person’s forearm that will stick to the minds of the audience. But the attempts at symbolism range from striking (the use of a train tunnel as an echo chamber) to laughable (Kinnear appears as a child).
Therefore, the big problem with Men (the film) is that with all the symbolism that it provides — whether it be the debate of how toxic masculinity with the male ego stems from or how does religion and nature fit in terms of power or how the multiple roles that Kinnear plays embody the stereotypical male roles in our society – is that Garland does not bring anything fresh or illuminating behind these images and metaphors other than “men are bad”. Or in this critic’s case, “men are owed”. But then again, with this amount of visual information on display, one’s mileage may vary.
Overall, Men is a strange, off-kilter horror experience that is as meretricious as it is malleable. The more you can gather in terms of thematic intrigue, the more you find flaws within its self-serious tone. In this case, the glass is half-empty.
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Men is out in cinemas now.