In Men, a widow travels to a quaint English village to clear her mind, only to find herself tormented by the local men. It’s a horror film that is, for a while, unsettling before it goes full batshit crazy, and not in a good way.
From Alex Garland, who made the masterpiece that is Ex Machina and the engrossing Annihilation, his latest is of a different mold. It’s simpler in many ways, though no less complex. And he has something to say–that all men are toxic in their own way?–though one could argue the movie, when all is said and done, doesn’t have a point.
Despite featuring several characters, Men is essentially a two-person dance: Jessie Buckley is sensational, as she often is, as a tragically scarred woman trapped in an increasingly scary situation, while Rory Kinnear creeps under your skin as just about everyone else. Buckley carries the film; Kinnear lingers at the edge of your nightmares (especially when his face is poorly plastered, via CGI, to a boy’s body).
Clocking in at a tight 100 minutes, Men is, for a while, a superbly executed piece of horror filmmaking that makes great use of sound, music, and shadow. Garland likes to fixate on Buckley; the terror she emotes elevates the material significantly. He nails the horror beats while making the movie feel fresh and unique, because it is.
Sadly, Garland can’t get out of his own way in the third act. Men becomes weirder and weirder until Garland unwraps his big surprise, which can best be described as indescribable. It’s batshit crazy, but not in a particularly satisfying way; I walked out of the theater going “WTF” and I’m still going “WTF.” There are people that will revel in appreciation of the direction Garland goes, but those people are likely the people who relate to the blonde ponytailed guy in Good Will Hunting.
While movies with a feminist bent don’t need to be directed by women, Men leaves you with a feeling that it might have been something more had it been made by someone else. I am a huge Alex Garland fan (his limited series Devs is also great), but the third act is a convoluted mess that goes the science-fiction route because that’s what he knows; I would have loved to see where a female director would have taken the story midway through. As is, there’s just something hollow about the ending, and if not hollow then certainly unfulfilling.
Men delivers some solid thrills and fantastic performances by Buckley and Kinnear, but in the end it isn’t men who are the real villains–it’s Garland himself.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.