Men
Picture of Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Alex Garland explores toxic masculinity in Men

Director Alex Garland takes a foray into folk horror for his junior film, Men from A24. In the aftermath of a personal tragedy, Harper (Jessie Buckley) retreats alone to the beautiful English countryside, hoping to have found a place to heal. But someone or something from the surrounding woods appears to be stalking her. What begins as simmering dread becomes a fully-formed nightmare, inhabited by her darkest memories and fears.

Before I get into my review, I wanted to give my readers and potential viewers a quick explanation of folk horror. Folk horror is a subgenre of horror films for cinema or television that uses elements of folklore to invoke fear in its audience. Typical characteristics include a rural setting and themes of isolation, religion, the power of nature, and the potential darkness of rural landscapes.

While indie film studio A24’s spring releases Everything Everywhere All at Once and  X may be a bit more mainstream, Men is one that I’m sure will divide audiences. One of the first things you will notice about the film is that the cast only features four characters. Harper Marlow (Jessie Buckley), James Marlow (Pappa Essiedu), Harper’s deceased husband, and Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), the owner of the holiday house Harper rents. In addition, Kinnear also portrays the numerous “men” in the village that Harper visits. Finally, Riley (Gayle Rankin), Harper’s friend, speaks to her primarily over the phone.

Alex Garland’s previous two features, Ex-Machina and Annihilation, were a bit in the sci-fi realm, so it’s not surprising that he ventures into horror for film number three. I still remember my initial perplexing thoughts after seeing the trailer for Men. Having no real idea what the film was about, I can admit that I went expecting something akin to 1987’s Dead of Winter.  

I missed the mark with my assumption. Jessie Buckley was one of the better things about the misguided I’m Thinking of Ending Things. The Irish actress brings the same flair from that performance to this one. Buckley has a knack for playing a broken woman who finds their strength in a country home. 

Rory Kinnear shows off his skill playing dual roles here, evoking everything from creepy to downright toxic. The village seems thinly populated, so all of the males look the same, interpreted in more or less bizarre forms by Rory Kinnear, who retains a family atmosphere despite the use of makeup and prosthetics. The backbone of this movie is a pleasing progression, which eventually leads to lavish body horror elucubrations in the final act. 

Along with Rob Hardy’s cinematography, director Alex Garland wants to explore the cycle of fertilization, birth, death, and rot tied into one evil man. I still don’t know how to explain the film to mainstream viewers as a whole, but the intended for Men will get Garland’s intent.

 

Final Grade: C+

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