MEN gets 6/10 The scariest monster there is

Directed by Alex Garland

Starring Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu


Gender dynamics and grotesque body horror make up this new drama-horror film from writer-director Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation), a confounding, metaphorical, visceral, and somewhat unsatisfying tale that feels so small, yet also so large.

Harper (Jessie Buckley) has arrived on vacation to a quiet village town, trying to shed herself over the trauma of what happened between her and her ex-husband James (Paapa Essiedu) back in the city. She tries settling in, hanging out at home, going for walks or attending the local pub. However, it isn’t long until she’s faced with the most horrifying monster there is: men. Some of them, like the cottage owner, the priest, and the cop, seem inviting, but they slowly start to shed their trustworthiness and become violently hostile towards her (all these men are played by Rory Kinnear).

It all feels very metaphorical, but for what exactly? People can come up with all sorts of interpretations and analysis, though the film feels too wishy-washy to have any strong convictions, nor does it even make these vague allegories particularly compelling.

In the film’s defence, it’s certainly a piece of work that goes there. The body horror ending is certainly wild, and the film as a whole isn’t afraid of tackling sensitive gender issues, which has led to some viewers calling it both misandrist and misogynistic (perhaps it’s just misanthropic). But there’s the uneasy feeling that this film simply taps into such topical themes merely for the clout, leaving little satisfaction with whatever conclusion the film appears to come to.

As a drama, the film simply isn’t compelling enough, with the flashbacks in particular having too much reiterative screen-time when there’s hardly much of interest or substance being revealed in them. The revelations through flashbacks were done much subtler, and with a more intriguing revelation, in The Lost Daughter, a less gruesome, but far more effective and interesting exploration of gender roles (also starring Jessie Buckley). As a horror, this film has a handful of effectively creepy moments involving a most unwanted intruder stalking around Harper’s cottage, and there are some gruesome moments towards the end, though Garland doesn’t seem to entirely have a strong-hold on conveying horror or building tension, and sometimes it comes across as dull.

Garland’s last two film really contrast with each other. Ex Machina was a clear and concise examination of human-android dynamics, and Annihilation was a more vague and unknowable concept, particularly when it reached its spiritual ending. Men seems to just be caught between, a fairly straight-forward plot, even when it clearly delves into grotesque fantasy, but with little of interest of anything fresh to back it up.


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