“Men” is a somewhat deep, body horror take on toxic masculinity.
Written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex-Machina, Annihilation) “Men” follows Harper (Jessie Buckley) who after her ex-husband commits suicide, decides to go to an English countryside estate to clear her mind. Once there, she eats an apple from a tree and then meets a man, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) the caregiver of the house Harper will be staying in. He is nice enough; sheepish and awkward, but “harmless”.
The first day there she decides to venture out into the sprawling countryside for a walk, which leads her into the woods. As her walk continues, she seems more and more at peace. And then, off in the distance she sees a man. He is seated, but soon gets up and suddenly begins to run after at her. She runs back to the house, losing him and deeming this an isolated incident. But soon she will meet the men who live in a nearby town, who all seem to share the same face as the man from the woods.
A “woman in peril” A24 film just hits different. Sure, a movie like “Men” contains the traditional thriller/slasher tropes. We get an emotionally and literally isolated woman. We get the running and chasing sequences. We get countless sequences of a woman not being believed by authority figures. What this movie attempts to add is biblical symbolism atop the social commentary. “Men” contains lots of Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, woman and nature verses patriarchy stuff. But the overarching story concerns our female protagonist’s grieving process post abusive relationship; similar to 2019’s “Midsommar”.
Much as in other A24 horror productions, dramatic lighting techniques act as an additional character, giving the story the proper atmosphere to allow a horror film with almost no jump scares to contain that slow burn unnerving effect throughout. Also adding to the unease was the wonderfully uncomfortable chemistry between the two leads, Buckley and Kinnear (Kinnear actually playing multiple roles). And Garland’s pacing was that of a well-made horror film; efficient and never boring.
The criticisms: “Men” is the kind of horror that will help A24 fans sleep at night; right after they make a twenty-minute YouTube video entitled, “Men: Ending Explained”. It will also be a downright frustrating watch for those who are not looking for introspective horror. There will be others who will give “Men” no points for ambition and somehow write this film off as not deep at all. Furthermore, we must also be conscious as always, that “Men” is a film based entirely on female trauma told through the perspective of a woman, written and directed by a man. That said, the flaws I took away from this were based on the fact that more than a few ideas and sequences here were very on the nose. Garland just doesn’t seem to trust that his audience understands his arguments and thus adds additional sequences to drive home his point. A continuous example of this is Garland’s representation of abuse throughout the film. For example: There is a scene where Harper tells her husband that she wants a divorce and he then threatens to kill himself. This is clear abuse on his part, but Garland then adds an additional sequence where the husband physically assaults Harper. It could be argued that this scene pertains to the story, but for me this and a few other sequences come off as repetitive, not giving audiences credit that we understand that abuse comes in many forms. But if that is my biggest criticism in a film which contains Cronenbergian birthing sequences, then Garland did a fairly good job.
Final Thought: I believe Garland’s point with “Men” was to capture what different kinds of male abuse look and feel like to a woman; but in a concentrated format. Does he accomplish this? I think he does. But again, as a man I can only speculate if the goal of a film like this was fully met.
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