Men… You can’t live with them, you can’t live without them!
Film fans eat well whenever Alex Garland comes to town. After a brief stint on FX with his incredible show “Devs”, Garland returns to the silver screen with his folk horror film “Men”. After starting as a screenwriter and delivering a few classics, Garland first sat in the directors’ chair with his electric debut “Ex Machina”, a sci-fi romp that we film geeks couldn’t get enough of. He followed that up with yet another banger, “Annihilation”, a film that has aged like fine wine. Capping off this trio is his latest installment, “Men”, which tells the story of a young woman who goes on holiday in the English countryside following the death of her husband. While visiting, she is stalked by men with the same faces. Now, I am admittedly a huge fan of Garland’s work so needless to say I was very excited to see his latest and for the most part, he does not disappoint. “Men” is a perplexing film. An incredibly shot, beautifully acted, and socially aware horror film, Garland seems to be more interested in theme than plot this time around. With minimal narrative beats and scarce dialogue, “Men” is Garland’s most meditative film. It’s also his most frustrating. While it doesn’t all quite tie together in a neat bow, Garland delivers more than a handful of engaging and truly disturbing sequences, crafting a unique, albeit undercooked psychological thriller. While I love a lot about this film, I can’t fully fall for it. With an unclear narrative and very uncomplicated thematic beats, this film, unfortunately, doesn’t provoke as much thought or intrigue as his previous films.
Garland directs the shit out of “Men”. Rather than develop a complex narrative, he spends his time crafting a very unique and surreal tone. The vibes seem to be paramount in “Men”, as Garland chooses to develop the thematic subtext of the film rather than the literal. These themes are delivered in somewhat disconnected vignettes. Harper, played wonderfully by Jessie Buckley, roams around the countryside running into several different… MEN. These men are played by the excellent Rory Kinnear, who delivers a masterclass in acting. It’s like “The Nutty Professor”, but terrifying. While the CGI and effects differentiating these men are a bit hit or miss, Kinnear diversifies these characters with ease. Each interaction grows more troublesome than the last, culminating in a terrifying finale. While it might not all make sense, the ride sure is fun.
The performances, cinematography, editing, and musical score are all outstanding. While I would love to gush about just these elements, I must confess, the film is a bit odd. It doesn’t quite ever really come together in any satisfying way, and while I can see what Garland is going for, I can’t say he sticks the landing entirely. Thematically, the film is surprisingly simple. It’s a sad case of the same idea being conveyed over and over again, which is a big surprise coming from such a rich and frankly masterful screenwriter. Narratively, the film is a mess. I’m not sure what happened at all, and the final reveal just added to that confusion. It’s clear he’s going for a folk tale-type beat, but it doesn’t quite work. This is like a messier version of “mother!”.
All my gripes aside, “Men” has far too many incredible elements for me to write it off. If you want to watch a weird and disturbing movie with great performances and excellent cinematography, turn your brain off and check out “Men”. 3/5