Writer-director Alex Garland’s new folk-horror oddity Men is best seen with as little prior knowledge as possible. What follows here must necessarily contain some plot details for the greatest experience, though it might be prudent to avoid reading further until you have seen the film.
Grief-stricken Harper (Jessie Buckley from The Lost Daughter, Wild Rose and Beast) drives into the country for a few weeks away from the city, having recently watched her husband James (I May Destroy You‘s Paapa Essiedu) fall to his death from the apartment balcony above their Thames-side home. The tragedy occurred following a row between the couple, which began after Harper explained how she would divorce James and ended with the latter assaulting her (later there is some ludicrous talk that this is somehow justified, but that excuse is rightly depicted as being an idiotic, grotesque non-justification).
At the large, idyllic country house Harper has rented, affable but odd Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear, last seen in No Time to Die and other Daniel Craig Bond films) shows her round in a peculiarly funny scene, typical of the film’s unusual tone. As she starts to settle in, Harper takes a calming country walk that ends in a bizarre incident when a flasher appears out of nowhere, before things then take an increasingly creepy turn when the naked man tries to break into Harper’s house while she works. A church encounter with an unsavoury vicar who grabs her leg without permission, followed by a pub discussion with the local policeman who arrested her stalker, frightens Harper further, and suddenly things get much weirder and scarier.
As well as Geoffrey, Kinnear plays all of the men in the village. This, aside from reinforcing the bigger point about how all men have the capacity to be abusive towards women, gives proceedings an uncanny sense of déjà vu, similar to the feeling of watching oddball 90s classic Being John Malkovich. It also gives Kinnear the spotlight, which he uses to provide a fascinating, unusual set of performances, ranging from a nude stalker to a sleazy vicar and even an obnoxious schoolboy.
Though only starring as Harper, Buckley also has plenty to do. She yet again solidifies her position as one of the greatest actresses of her generation, portraying a woman traumatised but coping. She’s terrified as things lurch into full-on horror in the final act, and is often justifiably angry. As for just how weird and scary things get, well, some details just shouldn’t be spoiled. All that needs saying is that Men is not for the squeamish – it makes Titane look like Toy Story. It’s not for everyone, but those who like rich, strange and bloodthirsty movies will get their kicks.
Garland, having dipped with his interesting-but-flawed puzzler Annihilation, returns to the form of the excellent Ex Machina here with a shocking, hilarious and terrifying take on grief and masculinity at its most toxic. Thrilling stuff.
- Director: Alex Garland
- Starring: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu
- Release date: May 20