MEN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Alex Garland

Stars: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, Gayle Rankin.  

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Men is the third feature film from Alex Garland, best known for Ex-Machina and for writing the novel The Beach, which was the source of the Danny Boyle film starring Leonardo Di Caprio. This is a creepy and unsettling film that subverts many of the usual tropes of the horror genre and is more in the vein of recent films like Get Out, Midsommar and its ilk. Its ending is hard core grotesque horror, more in the style of a David Cronenberg film. 

After seeing her ex-husband James (Paapa Essiedu, from the tv series I May Destroy You, etc) fall to his death, Harper (Jessie Buckley, from Beast, etc) heads off to the countryside for a two-week break. She rents a house in a small, secluded and sleepy village in the picturesque Cotswalds. The landlord is the slightly eccentric and talkative Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear, from Skyfall, etc), and their first meeting is a little awkward and uncomfortable. Left largely to her own devices, Harper takes a walk around the village, and she meets many of the other villagers including a bartender, a priest who voices his own views about Harper driving her husband to commit suicide and whose probing personal question veer towards the inappropriate, a strange schoolboy wearing a mask, a creepy green man whose skin is covered in leaves, and a naked man who seems to be stalking her. The local constable dismisses her fears. All of these characters bear a striking semblance to one another, as they are all played by Kinnear, and they each have a different but unsettling effect on Harper. Harper also discovers that she seems to be the only woman in this village.  

Men deals with weighty themes of guilt, grief, trauma, sexuality, redemption and toxic masculinity. The tone of this chamber piece is aggressively misogynistic and claustrophobic, and Garland creates an unsettling vibe throughout. There are some Biblical references and allusions to pagan rituals, all of which seem to suggest where the film is headed. Garland’s aim though is a little obscured and shrouded by Harper’s own uneasy and uncomfortable personal drama being played out. The set-up is a familiar trope for the horror genre, but Garland’s approach is more surreal in style, and the film raises more questions than it answers. He suffuses the material with a growing sense of foreboding and dread.  

The cinematography from Garland’s regular collaborator Rob Hardy adds to the uneasy mood of the piece. There is some great production design from Mark Digby, and the haunting choral score from Ben Salisbury and Geoff Burrows is quite effective. 

This is largely a two hander that relies on the performances of its leads to carry off Garland’s concept. As the psychologically damaged Harper Buckley is very good and conveys her sense of confusion, bewilderment, fear and paranoia. Kinnear plays multiple roles here, each one disturbing and creepy and deeply unsettling and imbued with a sense of menace. His characters represent different elements of male behaviour, from the psychologically abusive to the violent, and Garland cleverly uses makeup and visual effects to give each one a distinctive look. 

Men is an allegory about the violence that men inflict on women, and it will divide audiences. And its confronting nature may not appeal to some audiences. 

★★☆ 

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