Alex Garland’s Men is the director’s most cerebral and blunt movie to date. Whereas his previous sci-fi efforts of Ex Machina and Annihilation had some grounding to their surreality, this film goes deeper down a dark hole of nightmares. The title for the film likely came from the online apologies of “not all men” when it came to the issue of men sexually assaulting women. Sure, not all men are rape apologists and sexist pigs with engorged egos, but, in this film and from the perspective of our terrified protagonist, they all seem the same, literally.
Harper (Jessie Buckley) is a woman who is trying to recover from the worst break-up ever. Slowly revealed in bits and pieces, we learn that it was a relationship between manipulation and violence on the part of her partner (Paapa Essiedu). Feeling both helpless and angry, she attempts to fight off these dark thoughts by taking a break at a holiday home. Located in the country, the home is large and a stone’s throw away from a town. It would seem like the perfect place to unwind. It’s also the perfect place for a stalker to corner you.
Sure enough, there’s a naked creep wandering around the land. Slowly, he draws closer as Harper explores the grounds and wanders the wilderness. She calls the police but they can do so little that the creeper is released. Even worse, everyone in town happens to look exactly like Rory Kinnear and has an uncomfortable air of arrogance around her. The holiday house owner is an awkward gentleman too jokey to trust with anything and the local priest is a stern misogynist who blames her for her tragic past. Something hideous lurks under the surface in this community and it all culminates in a very grotesque finale that harkens to Cronenberg with surreal body deformations that follow.
I’ll just say it: Men is Garland’s worst film so far. And yet there’s something rather compelling about the deep polarization that will come with it. With the limited dialogue, slow pacing, and trippy finale, some of the audience will be scratching their heads angrily. For those that can read the very blunt messaging about the aggravations of patriarchy and gaslighting for love, the overt and simplistic nature will be frustrating. So I’m sure I may be in a bit of a minority of enjoying this picture’s moody atmosphere, despite not carrying as heavy an impact as Garland’s previous work.
The film certainly doesn’t feel out of line for how Garland’s previous films have played out. Ex Machina and Annihilation both focused on women who feel themselves losing a sense of their identity with existential dread for the world they exist within. From this angle, Men follow the same path but place more emphasis on the societal rather than the cerebral. If those first two sci-fi films were made accessible for being about aliens and androids, Men won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and it’s daring for the director to attempt to spice things up in this nature.
Men is by far one of the most provocative horror films that won’t leave you shrugging for sure. There’s a greater discussion to be had about what is communicated in the film in its vile imagery and quiet cruelty that pulsates throughout. It remains to be seen just how many will want to talk about it after the abrupt ending or just write it off as an artsy-fartsy attempt to slather some Cronenberg all over the topic of sexism.