Let’s talk about men. Or to be more specific, toxic masculinity. It’s the worst.
That’s the blunt message that Men is aiming to get across at its most basic. Of course, this being an Alex Garland movie, it’s way more intricate and layered than that. At times, to its benefit but at others, to its detriment. Is Men a clever movie? Absolutely, even if it’s not as profound as it thinks it is. However, just as importantly, is it a satisfying movie? That is up for debate.
Having left viewers both awestruck and baffled by Ex Machina and Annihilation, writer and director Alex Garland looks to confound and disgust in equal measure with Men.
The wonderful and talented Jessie Buckley plays Harper. She recently got out of an abusive relationship and needing a break from the London lifestyle, she has rented a country house for two weeks. There, she meets the affable owner Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) and settles in for a few weeks of peace and quiet while she processes the trauma she has experienced at the hands of her ex-partner, James (Paapa Essiedu).
It doesn’t take long for Harper to fall in love with the vibrant and lush countryside. Exploring the intense dreaminess and enjoying the isolation. However, after a naked man appears in the garden of the rental, things begin to take a dark turn for Harper. This place is not what it seems and her own issues might be a contributing factor.
To say anymore would be spoiling what is a wild ride of insanity. Where you’re left gaping at what transpires and admiring just how transformative the ‘all men are the same’ saying can be. Both figuratively and literally.
The men that Harper meets around the town all portray a trait of toxic masculinity, something that connects to her experience with James. From gaslighting to white knighting to controlling to patronising to predatory, there’s a lot of negative male behaviours on show here. Some more subtle than others but all recognisable, even from a male perspective.
That each character is played by Rory Kinnear in different guises will confuse at first, especially as Harper doesn’t acknowledge the similarities, yet by the end of the film will make sense. Some sense, not complete sense, which is probably the movie’s biggest flaw. If you’re hoping for a satisfying payoff that explains the how, why, and what of things, you’re not going to be happy.
There’s nothing wrong with ambiguity, in fact it can often be a much stronger story-telling aspect, Men though, leaves too much open for interpretation. Something that feels unearned because of how extreme the final portion of the movie is. From subtle detail and clever threads to building dread and tension to stir-crazy body horror that is sure to polarise. There’s nothing predictable about Men, that much is for sure.
That is hugely impressive. Then throw in incredible acting, glorious cinematography, an excellent score and electrifying effects and it’s clear that Men is a movie worth seeing. Even if arguments about story and ambiguity look to overshadow everything else.
It might be Alex Garland’s most impressive work to date. Certainly his most disturbed and controversial.
The Final Score - 7.5/10