Dir. Alex Garland (2022)
A woman who was recently widowed after her husband committed suicide takes a retreat to an isolated cottage. The townspeople at the nearby village decide to show her just how bad things can get.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Fresh off the society-shaking reveals of the #MeToo movement, Alex Garland’s critique on toxic masculinity came roaring into the collective subconscious of a bunch of moviegoers who were absolutely not ready for any of this. Jessie Buckley does a phenomenal job as Harper, a woman who is taking a vacation in the English countryside after the suicide of her husband. He killed himself when she threatened a divorce, but not before hitting her in the mouth for telling her friend about their problems. Needless to say, Harper is not particularly man-friendly at the moment, but that does not stop her from being cordial to Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), who is managing the property she decides to rent. Despite Geoffrey’s aloofness, Harper does her best to be as polite as possible while avoiding as much conversation as she can, as she’s looking forward to moving on with her vacation. She decides to take a walk in the gorgeous woods near her house, where she encounters a naked man who follows her home. To say that all hell breaks loose would be an understatement, though you’ll have to watch the film to find out more.
The acting in this film was an absolute pleasure to watch, as all parts are played fantastically but Buckley and Kinnear give awards-level performances. Garland has made his name creating beautiful, weird, and beautifully weird films, showing with Annihilation that he can create some terrifying moments as well. As bizarre as some of the scenes were in his previous film, Men turns all that shit up to 11.5, with the finale of the film becoming one of the most bizarre and uncomfortable scenes in recent memory. It’s difficult to tell exactly what point Garland was trying to make with the film, and I don’t know that he intended it to be one that is easily digestible. Whether his intentions were to say that all men are the same, or that it is the behavior passed down from one generation to another that creates toxic masculinity itself, or even if the film is just a treatise on grief and guilt a la The Babadook, is certainly up for debate. What is not is that this one is a film that stands up to the best of Cronenberg and Lynch, an acid-trip through a woman’s experience of the worst the rougher sex has to offer.
It’s difficult, in a film like this, to say that anything other than the bizarre and grotesque are the standouts of the movie, but Garland manages to create a film that is so visually beautiful that it’s an easy case to make. His haunting score, derived from the vocal stylings of Harper herself, is mesmerizing, a backdrop for the insanity that unfolds on-screen. It’s a movie that is designed to make you uncomfortable, and boy howdy does it ever. I’ve seen many reviewers compare this film to Mother!, which is entirely unfair: Men is actually a watchable film that delights in making its audience uncomfortable while never trying to beat them over the head with its message. Unfortunately, with a film as bizarre as this one, that happens to leave a lot of the message indecipherable. It feels like it’s an important message, so in this case it would’ve been nice to get a little clarity. As it is, it’s a fantastically crafted film that is just about as beautiful and arthouse as you can get. Just don’t watch it on a date.
Who this movie is for: Arthouse horror fans, Bizarre horror lovers, Speed daters.
Bottom line: Alex Garland has made a fantastic film that was right up my alley but very well may not be up yours. From its horrifyingly disturbing ending to its beautiful set pieces, Garland has created a movie that is as divisive and groundbreaking as good horror often is. Grade-A acting from Buckley and Kinnear help shepherd a film that easily could’ve tread into unwatchable territory, but with their performances, the gorgeous cinematography, and the ultra-spooky score, Garland made a film that I absolutely loved and immediately desired to recommend to people who had no idea what they were in for.