Review: ‘Men’

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Alex Garland’s latest A24 project Men has been one of my most anticipated films since it was announced in January 2021. A24 is certainly one of the most interesting production companies out there, and with Garland at the helm and Jessie Buckley playing the film’s lead, Men had all the necessary components to be my top film of the year. When I walked out of one of the film’s first UK screenings, I turned to my friend and we just looked at each other. I didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what to say. We were flummoxed. 

The premise is a fairly simple one. Harper, played by one of Hollywood’s most exciting and versatile actresses, Jessie Buckley, is a Londoner seeking the peace and quiet of the Cotswold countryside to heal after the death of her husband (Paapa Essiedu). As she explores the surrounding area she begins to meet the locals, all of whom are men, and things get… weird. Oh, and all the men are played by Rory Kinnear. As seemingly the only woman in the village, the men pose various levels of threat to Harper. Each of the men seems to represent different aspects of toxic masculinity, and it’s up to Harper to defend herself against them. The rest you should discover for yourself. 

It’s jarring, but it’s clever

Visually, Men is stunning. Rob Hardy captures the English countryside in a way one wouldn’t expect for a film labelled under ‘horror’. There are shots of the landscape where one half expects the sisters to suddenly run across the screen. Alas, they do not, but a naked green man does. It’s jarring, but it’s clever. 

Men is intentionally funny at some points though, particularly Rory Kinnear’s turn as Geoffrey, the owner of the gorgeous property which Harper is renting. Kinnear is an extraordinary actor, and one whose talent creeps up on you when he appears even in a small role. To play nearly all of the characters in a film cannot have been easy, but he pulls it off with ease and an admirable amount of skill. 

It is Buckley though, who recently got her first Oscar nomination for her role as Leda in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter, who really carries this film. She beats at the epicentre of the film, constantly pulling at the reigns to imbue the film with a sense of realism. Indeed, some of the best moments include no dialogue as we just watch her go for a walk, sit to play the piano or just take a bath. She even makes brushing her teeth a scene worth having in the film. I am so excited to see her ever-growing list of upcoming projects, including Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, in which she’ll share the screen with Frances McDormand, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara and Ben Wishaw. I sense Buckley’s second Oscar nomination may just be around the corner.

It is a shame that in the final act Garland managed to completely lose me

With two knockout performances being delivered, it is a shame that in the final act Garland managed to completely lose me. For those who have seen the film, you’ll know exactly which sequence I am referring to. It is body horror on another level, and one feels that Garland just got carried away. The sequence is so obtrusive and excessive that it becomes void of any meaning and I started zoning out of the film. By the time I had processed what I had just seen I was too exhausted to rationalise it into anything meaningful. Now I’ve had a couple of weeks to think about it I do have more of an idea of what Garland was perhaps trying to say. Be prepared to carry this film around with you for a long time afterwards. You’re in it for the long run, not just the 100-minute running time. 

Despite not liking the final sequence, its shocking nature combined with the cleverness of the rest of the film makes for an interesting discussion. Garland has therefore still succeeded in making one of 2022’s must-see films. But don’t watch it alone. Not because it’s particularly scary, but because you’ll need someone to talk to about it afterwards. 

Image: Gustav Gullstrand via Unsplash

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