Men (2022)

Men is one of most anticipated horror films released this year as it sees Alex Garland back on the big screen as his previous film, Annihilation was a Netflix film. The film follows Harper, a woman who is grieving the recent loss of her husband, James (Paapa Essiedu). She ventures to the small village of Cotson and stays in a large house in order to take some time to herself and heal following her ordeal. As she spends more time in the village and encounters the (predominantly male) locals (all played by Rory Kinnear), everything is not as it seems. The film is a folk horror and feels as though it would fit nicely alongside a double bill of Ben Wheatley’s Kill List.

The film is both written and directed by Alex Garland, and it’s safe to say that this is one of the most original films of the year. While Men may not be flawless throughout, it does pose some intriguing ideas and concepts that are rarely discussed in film, especially the horror genre. The main themes are gender politics and Garland’s use of one actor playing the male residents in the village is a brilliant move as it shows the danger of men’s treatment of women and how connected it is, even though it shows itself in different ways. However, there is no denying that this story may have been better served if it was told from a female perspective, whether that is through a female director or a co-writer. This is because it feels as though there is something missing from the script, especially at the end of the film, and a female perspective may have rounded things off nicely. Garland’s direction is as striking and visceral as always, with a particular focus on anatomy and autonomy. The male body is shown explicitly throughout, while the female body is not, subverting the usual trope that we are accustomed to in film.

Leading the film is Jessie Buckley as Harper, who shows why she is one of the most in-demand actresses working today. What makes Buckley such a fantastic actress is how experimental she is with the roles that she takes. Whether she is starring in something more mainstream such as The Lost Daughter (which earned her an Oscar nomination earlier this year), or something more experimental like Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Buckley has a strong presence and is immediately gripping, captivating audiences every time she is onscreen. This is no different in Men as she drives the film onward and showcases plenty of star quality despite the “smallness” of the film’s cast and setting. While the film may suffer in terms of its story and themes, Buckley’s performance is nothing short of phenomenal as she breathes life into the character, providing plenty of depth into Harper and bringing lots of strength into the role.

The supporting cast is very small and is led by Rory Kinnear who takes up most of the space as landlord, Geoffrey and the other Men in the village. Kinnear’s role is to represent men and the various privileges that men have through a variety of characters. Leading these characters is landlord, Geoffrey, who owns the house that Harper is staying in. From the moment he appears, Geoffrey’s privilege is loud and clear as he exudes the tropes associated with the middle and upper classes, while also remaining ignorant of the dangers that befall women on a regular basis. What makes Kinnear so effective in the various roles is how committed he is to each character.

As expected from an Alex Garland film, the cinematography is especially striking. Garland collaborates yet again with Rob Hardy, who makes use of some wonderful shots. The scene where Harper is in the tunnel is simple, yet the way Hardy shoots this and makes use of the contrast between light and shadow is brilliant. Hardy manages to capture the extraordinary in everyday life, while making use of the limited locations. He knows when to make the village seem vast and large, and when to make it feel incredibly claustrophobic.

A key part of any folk horror film is the music and Men is no exception. The score composed by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow not only provides many trademarks associated with folk horror scores, but it actively serves the plot. The scene in which Harper ventures into a tunnel and begins to sing serves as the basis for a choral track that is played throughout the rest of the film to exemplify her inner torment and struggles, especially as her life is in danger. The way the score is edited and mixed in with the film is a masterclass in how to make the score relevant to the plot, while also contributing to the film as a sensory experience.

Men is another example of why Alex Garland is one of the most original filmmakers working in horror. While this film may feel muddled in terms of its discussions and themes, it boasts strong direction and excellent performances, especially from Buckley who shows that she is one of the best actresses working today. It’s a film that deserves more than one viewing because of how detailed every moment is, which could be why it has been receiving so many mixed reviews.

What did you think of Men? Let me know in the comments below!

Men is available to watch in UK cinemas now!


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