MEN review by Mark Walters – Alex Garland’s latest is an exercise in psychological horror

MEN review by Mark Walters – Alex Garland’s latest is an exercise in psychological horror

The new A24 film by writer/director Alex Garland is called MEN, but if you asked me to tell you what it’s about, I’d struggle with my answer. I can tell you what I think it’s about, though I’m betting different people would have different interpretations. On the surface it seems to deal with a woman named Harper (Jessie Buckley) who is processing the shocking loss of her husband to suicide… or was it suicide? And did her actions play a role in what he did, or was she free of blame? And is the story really just commentary on toxic masculinity and misogyny? Perhaps. These are the questions you’ll undoubtedly be asking yourself while watching the film.

Harper decides to spend a weekend in a quaint country home in England in hopes of getting her mind off the recent tragedy she witnessed, and is welcomed by the awkward but friendly groundskeeper Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear). The house looks incredible, lots of decorative rooms and beautiful foliage all around, even an apple tree producing juicy and delicious fruit. Harper Facetimes with her best friend and both agree this trip may be exactly what she needs. During her first day there, Harper starts exploring the nearby wooded areas, and stumbles across a long tunnel, getting some laughs at hearing her voice echo through it as she shouts. But the fun is disrupted when a mysterious figure on the other end starts screaming back and running in her direction. She runs back to the house, but on the way notices a strange naked man with yellow skin watching her from a distance. Once back in the home, she calls her friend again, but is startled when the naked man shows up outside and tries to get in. She calls the police who arrive and arrest him, and it seems like this may just be a homeless man with mental problems, but it’s at this moment that we, the audience, begin to notice something very specific about the film. A female officer questions Harper, while a male officer handcuffs the naked man… but all of these “men” have the same face, that of Rory Kinnear, who ends up playing several different fellas in the film. Why, you may ask? Well that’s part of the mystery. And from this moment in the production, things get progressively more and more weird, building up to a final act that will bewilder most and horrify you… if you’re not covering your eyes, and if you did no one would blame you.

MEN is pure psychological horror that is in many ways unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. But there’s more to it than that, as it’s the kind of thing that will likely mean different things to different people. For example, why does every man in the movie (except for Harper’s husband) have the same face? And how much of what we’re seeing is actually happening versus what may just be in her head. There are moments in the final act that will have you questioning everything you’ve thought you figured out about the story, and visuals that will haunt you and raise even more questions about the meaning of the film. My personal take based on what I saw is this is a movie about how we deal with the pain of loss, the anguish of guilt, and issues of trust and personal growth. Jessie Buckley is brilliant as Harper, a woman struggling with the horror of a failed marriage ending in the worst possible way. Was that failure her own fault, or his, or perhaps both of them failing each other? We’re only given glimpses of what led up to the devastating final moments of their relationship, and there’s just enough ambiguity with it to make you wonder if things happened intentionally or by accident. And even if she wasn’t ready to continue their marriage, was she capable of emotionally letting go? Either way, it’s easy to imagine the mental damage something like that could do to a person, and how it could create nagging emotional stress for many days to come. Buckley finds the perfect balance of strong independent woman and freaked-out damsel facing horrific odds. Regardless of how you feel about the film, there’s no denying her incredible performance. And Rory Kinnear’s difficult job of playing virtually every man in the movie, and finding ways to make them each unique and memorable, it’s a monumental task and handled in splendid form. His groundskeeper Geoffrey is particularly great, and you can see how Kinnear is giving 110% in each and every disturbing male figure here. It must have been an actor’s dream to take on this kind of movie, and he really makes the most of it, fearlessly so. I’ve admired Kinnear for many years in smaller roles, and this production is a real showcase for the underappreciated actor.

Alex Garland has well proven himself as an engaging writer, with many strong entries under his belt, but his work as a director is proving to be very interesting, previously helming EX-MACHINA and ANNIHILATION, and now MEN. You can tell he’s not making movies to be overtly accessible, rather making fascinating and thought-provoking stories that will get people talking… you may not “like” his movies, but you’ll damn sure want to discuss them with other viewers. MEN may be one of his most difficult productions yet, as it’s an uncomfortable and at times very confusing film, and delivers a final act that is really extreme and intentionally disturbing. But if you can find the meaning within the narrative, which in this case could easily be very specific to the individual viewer, you may just understand how brilliant a filmmaker he actually is. There are definitely not-so-subtle examples of toxic male behavior on display here, but a recurring visual of a church statue that has an angry male face on the front and a birthing woman on the back… again, commentary on misogyny and masculine dominance. The men in this movie are not subtle, especially certain characters like a condescending and sexually repressed priest. I’ll say this, toxic males who see this film, if they “get” it, will likely hate it. Honestly, I’m not even sure I can say I enjoyed MEN as a movie, but it’s definitely one of the most unique productions I’ve seen in a while, and that by itself gives it merit aside from its very smart social commentary. Just one final warning, I don’t care how much you like horror films, this is a movie that will leave you somewhat disturbed and perhaps very uncomfortable… consider that before you ask someone to join you when you see it.

MEN opens May 20, 2022

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.