Off the bat, I have to say that MEN, written and directed by Alex Garland (EX MACHINA) is going to be a very divisive movie and the majority of audience members are going to find it is not for them, especially the film’s final scene. With that said, I actually really, really enjoyed the film. Yes, those last minutes were even a bit :ahem: much for me, but the overall message of the film and its originality overcomes any of that; Garland is literally swinging for the fences.
MEN is a horror folk tale of sorts. It centers around Harper (Jessie Buckley) a young woman who is seeking solace after being recently widowed. She decides to rent a house in the English countryside to get away from London and get work done in a tranquil location. There, she meets Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), the owner of the house, who awkwardly gives her a tour of the large property and lets her know he will be around if she needs anything. That afternoon, Harper tries to walk to a nearby town through the woods. Her adventure is abruptly disrupted when she is followed by a mentally unstable, naked man that later ends up showing up outside the house. This interaction, coupled with uncomfortable encounters with other men in the surrounding area, shows Harper her wish for a peaceful getaway may not be what is in store.
I purposefully knew nothing about MEN going into it, which is why I tried to keep my plot summary to a minimum. The film plays so much better that way. I love Garland’s other brilliant films and wanted this to be a surprise; so much so, I had no idea it was a horror film until I began feeling anxious as Harper started being followed in the woods. If you were to see the trailer, you would easily pick up on the film’s eerie scenes and score, but leave it to me to go into a movie completely blind. I am so happy I did, though, because I was able to experience the film with zero expectations, apart from Garland being one of my favorite filmmakers and Buckley one of my favorite actors.
I appreciate that a male filmmaker made such a confronting horror film about the trauma women encounter at the hands of men. Garland has always spotlighted women in his films, from Alicia Vikander’s star-turning role in EX-MACHINA to Natalie Portman’s role in his female-led film ANNIHILATION. But this film is his most blatantly feminist film yet. I think everyone will find a different meaning from this film. For me, his decision to cast Kinnear as all of the men in the small country town, each with their own confrontations with Buckley’s Harper, showcased the worst parts of the female experience: abuse, harassment, gaslighting, and not being believed. The film does a good job of showing the ways this sinister behavior permeates at first more innocuously in awkward moments in conversations, before being more outwardly physical and toxic.
Jessie Buckley is one of my favorite actors working today and she gives one of the best performances of her career in MEN. Her ability to make me immediately relate to and sympathize with her character is the most critical part of the film and I was in her corner from the second the film started. The film needs the audience to be concerned about Harper’s well-being and Buckley’s performance immediately had me hooked. She seriously did such a great job of bringing me into the film’s action that my anxiety hasn’t been so high in a movie in a long time. If I had a heart rate monitor set up, I can only imagine what the readings would have been.
Along with Buckley, Rory Kinnear gives a performance for the record books. He plays over ten different roles in the film, ranging from a young boy to a vicar to an older aristocratic landowner (with a creepy, naked forest creature and other unsettling men sprinkled in between). I have never seen such a chameleon performance; the closest I’ve seen is Tatiana Maslany in ORPHAN BLACK. Even though I knew Kinnear was playing each male character, and the film still wants you to recognize that, he disappeared into every role. His performance should be showcased in every acting class from now on as a masterpiece performance, demonstrating the unknown limits of an actor’s range.
Garland always makes completely original films that you certainly have never seen before. I love that he never makes cookie cutter choices, but rather takes insane risks that will, at the very least, make you feel things. Whether those feelings are good, bad, or grossed out is up to you. I only feel comfortable recommending MEN for those who have enjoyed Garland’s other works and are open to a more visceral, trippy horror film that is going to leave you absolutely unsettled and thinking WTF did I just watch.
My Review: B