Men

Men ★★★½

74

I was eagerly anticipating Alex Garland’s Men after having grown up loving “The Beach” (which is based on Garland’s novel) and recently loving “Annihilation.” From a visual and technical standpoint, “Men” is an even greater achievement than Annihilation. It’s gorgeously shot on location in the countryside of the UK, has sound design that’s on par with the quality of big blockbusters and is edited in a way that brings considerably chilling discomfort. It also has two strong performances to anchor it. I wish the plot ultimately built up to a bit more than fairly shallow and on the nose “all men are bad” commentary but the story is solid nonetheless. Garland’s direction manages to constantly entertain from tension building through skillfully done long takes. 

After her husband’s death, Harper (Jessie Buckley) retreats to the English countryside. She discovers that she’s being stalked by someone and is determined to find a way to stop it. 

Jessie Buckley’s performance needed to be incredible for this to work. A film with so many extended silences and long takes requires a face that can resonate the emotion we need to feel as an audience. To no surprise, Buckley gives an Oscar nom worthy performance. Every moment of quiet emotion is felt through her facial features. There’s also a bit of physicality to the role that she nails as well. And her friendship (shown exclusively through Facetime) with Riley (Gayle Ranking) serves as the only refreshing opportunity she gets to speak with someone who is normal. There’s even a female police officer in the film that manages to gaslight her. But it’s in the few loudest moments that we see all of the feelings inside of her explode out. The flashbacks to her arguing with her husband (Paapa Essiedu) hit especially hard. 

Then there’s Rory Kinnear as Geoffrey, the landlord. I will only spoil what was already in the trailer so don’t read on if you haven’t seen that. Kinnear plays every male figure in the film outside of Harper’s husband. This means that he’s the landlord, the creepy stalker, the offensive vicar, the rude little boy in a halloween mask and others. The characters each sound only slightly different but in a way that can make you question that it’s still him. Kinnear does an even better job at bringing a wholly separate physicality to each one. What the stalker ultimately becomes in the third act is so crazy that it works. It does have audiences laughing when they maybe shouldn’t be but that also could be a sign of awkward discomfort. I, on the other hand, was genuinely in awe by the ending with my mouth wide open. So I must commend Kinnear and the effects team for how creative the ending becomes. 

All the men during her time in the countryside being played by the same man seems to be Garland’s way of saying “all men are the same.” Yet, that’s not it, at least, from a literal sense. It also begs the question of whether Harper is seeing different people as the same man or if it’s actually all one single entity personifying all of the poor traits of abusive males. It’s difficult to ascertain what answer is actually correct, as Garland wants it to be ambiguous. Yet, it’s easy to see that they all collectively oppress her, with not a single male figure being a shining light. This is where “Men” disappointed me the most. Garland should have offered a more balanced and insightful argument on female oppression from males. Not all males are bad and Garland should have found a way to explore the difference between a good and bad man, as it might’ve shed light on what causes a man to be abusive in the first place. The current ideas ultimately build to the basic “all men are bad” argument, which is not helpful in the slightest at inspiring change. Garland’s use of the ‘green man’ among other minor allusions to religion possibly being part of the problem as well could have also been more utilized. Whatever Garland was trying to say with religion here feels half baked.

Although I didn’t adore “Men’s” commentary on abusive males, I did find it to be a throughly entertaining story of a woman overcoming her marriage and lost loved one. Harper’s happiness at the very end is the sign of a woman who’s overcome her past and ready to move forward. Her difficult journey resonated well and the overall tension found with her time spent in the countryside made for another solid horror film for A24’s lineup. I can’t wait for Garland’s next film, which is supposed to be an action epic, also distributed by A24.

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