Review: Alex Garland’s Men | MassNews
DIt all depends on who you ask: Modern men either have a crisis in masculinity, or are wielding more power than ever. This is his humorous psycho-sexual horror movie Men, writer-director Alex Garland explores both angles, suggesting that men don’t know who they are anymore, which only leads them to act out in disastrous ways, locked in a state of radical insecurity that’s creating a nightmare for women. Although he does not offer any solutions, he is willing to explore the issue. Be aware that the road he takes is not an easy one.
Jessie Buckley plays Harper, a young woman who escapes to a glorious English country house in the hopes of healing after her husband’s suicide. It is a strange place from the very beginning. The house’s owner (Rory Kinnear), red-faced and jolly in a passive aggressive way, greets her at the door and shows her around, flashing his enormous choppers as he warns her about the house’s ancient plumbing: “Ladies, do watch what you flush.” He also makes nosy queries about her marital status. As soon as he leaves—phew!—Harper goes for a walk in search of solitude.
After a brief time, she finally finds it. She revels in the near-flauting spring green of trees and the sound of raindrops. A tunnel of echoey stones that echo around her amplifies her voice, as does her relief of being left alone. But then she sees a man—or just the vague form of a man—running toward her from the tunnel’s far end. Finally, she flees and reaches her home. Later, she’s horrified to find a naked man peering in at her from the house’s enormous windows. The police are called and he is taken into custody. That, she believes, is it.
Jessie Buckley in ‘Men’
Until she meets a country vicar who at first seems eager to soothe her troubled heart, only to turn on her by asking what she might have done to cause her husband’s suicide. A schoolboy, with his mean eyes, attempts to seduce her into playing hide and seek. What are these horrible country folk, anyway? All the while, Harper is haunted by memories of her dead husband (played by Paapa Essiedu), recalling how he’d threatened to kill himself when she’d told him, with good reason, that she was leaving: “You’ll have to live with your conscience.”
An aging deer with its eye socket seen as a cosmic maggoty swirl. A church lectern with a standard Green Man ornament on one side and a lewd, feminine figure carved the other. The terrifying result involves an unassuming, though subtly symbolic, postal slot. This is what it means. Garland’s third feature as director—following the ambitious and unsettling artificial-intelligence drama Ex MachinaThe less successful sci-fi parable Annihilation—is a disquieting picture with a chilly heart, a movie that makes harsh pronouncements about how vile men can be, even as it occasionally sounds a note of tenderness for these poor, misguided creatures.
Because if Men has a point at all, it’s that women are the stronger, more resourceful sex. Buckley is terrific as a woman who faces her fears outright, refusing to be cowed by male bullishness—she’s both resolute and believably vulnerable. Garland doesn’t trivialize or fetishize her terror. We’re on her side every minute. When she grabs a kitchen knife in self-defense, you’re likely to feel your own hand closing around a handle.
Garland may not have intended to but it is a timely reminder that men control women in order to alleviate their own self-loathing. Even if they walk away MenYou don’t know what you should think. The movie leads to feeling that overtakes thinking. You may feel the shiver of melancholy, recognition, or both as you watch the film, and you begin to see how real life is blurring in front of you.
Here are more must-read stories from TIME