PLOT: After her husband’s brutal suicide, a woman (Jessie Buckley) rents a beautiful house in the English countryside to grieve in peace. Once there, she is harassed by the men of the village, who all seem to look alike.
REVIEW: Alex Garland is quickly becoming one of the genre’s most original voices. He is one of the creators of what we now call “arthouse horror,” a genre that this film’s studio, A24, had huge success with. His new movie, Men, will likely play for a smaller audience than some of their hits, with Garland opting to create a heady, trippy psychological thriller that emphasizes humor rather than terror. In short, it might be the most A24 movie of all time.
Men is a movie that requires multiple viewings, because at first glance I’m not quite sure I “got it” or the themes Garland was going for. It’s certainly the story of a woman who suffered a high degree of horror from the various men in her life, but it goes deeper than that. A week after seeing it, I’m still not quite sure how much point it would be to have all the men in the village played by Rory Kinnear. We are shown that the man who has traumatized her the most is her late husband, played by Paapa Essiedu, and indeed he serves as a ghostly specter throughout the film. But why does Kinnear play all the men? And are they really men? I thought I had it figured out at some point, but the end of the lead trip happened and made me reconsider pretty much everything I had seen up to that point, making me wonder if I really understood?
As such, Men is certainly not a film to be taken literally. It’s highly metaphorical and seemingly influenced by the British folk horror genre of the 70s, which included the classic Hammer The wicker man. Another theme that was often present in these films was the big city “outsider” tortured by this rural community. straw dogs is another good example of this kind, and the end of Men seemed elevated reminiscent of the famous home invasion climax in this controversial Sam Peckinpah film.
It will undoubtedly be a controversial film and inevitably seems destined to launch a thousand thoughts. However, one thing that will not be debated is the quality of the realization or performance. Garland made a gorgeous film, with lush cinematography from her regular DP Rob Hardy and a terrific score from her go-to composers Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow.
From a acting perspective, the film is essentially two-man, with star Jessie Buckley never off-screen, while, as previously stated, Rory Kinnear (dreadful penny) plays all the men in the village. This includes everyone from the elderly vicar to a naughty child. The makeup used to facilitate her transformations is remarkable. Kinnear has an interesting face that makes him compelling to a wide variety of types – including a wimpy landlord, a macho cop, a salt of the earth bartender, and more. The only element that seems out of the movie’s budget is the CGI that makes Kinnear look like a kid, but I guess the kid is meant to have some weird valley quality to it.
After exploding in movies like wild rose, The Lost Daughter, and I’m thinking of ending things, Buckley has quickly become one of Europe’s most in-demand actresses, and watching this, you’ll see why. She has a formidable presence and is an empathetic lead, even if the film takes a wild turn in a finale that will blow some minds and send others racing for the exits.
At the end, Men almost felt like too much to take in with just one viewing. It’s heavy-watching that’s about as far from mainstream horror as it gets. I’m not sure I understood what I was looking at half the time, but I never found it less compelling, and I’d be interested in giving it another watch. This is one of “those” films. Some will hate it now, but maybe we’ll all consider it a classic a decade from now.