Directed by Alex Garland
Warning: Light spoilerage.
Okay... after not being all that impressed by the writer/director Alex Garland’s cinematic output over the years, I have to say I’m very shocked to have found he’s made a movie that I actually quite like. Yay! Finally I can say nice things about one of Garland’s movies. Well, okay, I really liked DEVS too (reviewed here) but, that was a TV show so it’s a different kettle of fish altogether.
Men starts off with an image of the central protagonist Harper, played by Jessie Buckley, left with a bashed up bloody nose, staring in contemplation from her flat near the Thames. As she looks out the window, she sees a man fall to his death. Then, sometime after these events, she goes to stay for a two week holiday in a big country home in an obscure village (said to be in the wilds of Hertfordshire). As the movie progresses, we find out that the man who leapt purposefully to his death (it is assumed) was her abusive husband, who had minutes before hit her.
The husband is played by Paapa Essiedu, which is an important point because, as she starts meeting people in the village such as the landlord, the policeman, the local vicar and a strange entity based on the English Green Man (but there’s also a mythic connection to something called the Sheela na gig thrown in for good measure too)... they are all played by Rory Kinnear (who people may remember as Tanner in the modern James Bond movies and also from his stand out performance as the Frankenstein monster in the brilliant Penny Dreadful TV show). And he looks a little different as each of, arguably, many characters (or manifestations of one character, take your pick)... and sometimes quite disturbing, as when his head is CGI’d onto a pre-teen’s body in a few scenes.
And it’s one of those films where the central protagonist, in this case Harper, spends a lot of time alone contemplating nature and trying to figure out what’s going on in the village as various strange things happen to her. As we find out more about the sequence at the start of the film, we find she is trying to come to terms with the guilt she is haunted by, for yelling at her husband after his abuse, leading to him jumping off the balcony of the flat above but, as she meets various different Rory’s, some of them nice but odd, some of them not so nice and some of them downright strange, it becomes a film where the male of the species somehow seems to encourage those feelings and offer far from comforting opinions and advice about the bloody end of Harper’s marriage. In fact, each of the men she meets, even the seemingly nice one (who I can just about see might be seen as passive aggressive... or just being a gentleman, depending on what decade you grew up), are in some way an intimidating presence in her life.
And that’s as far as I’m going with the plot other than to say, the end of the movie is like if David Cronenberg had decided to remake Xtro but just kept piling on the body horror in excessive amounts. So if you are a horror person... this film definitely goes for it by the end. Depending on your interpretation of events as either real or metaphorical I guess... although it seems to me to be depicted as both.
And, it’s really nice to look at too. Garland makes good use of architectural details and natural shapes in the forest to frame his actors,favouring an emphasis on the centre of a shot and often echoing a tunnel shape which is the location of one odd scene early on in the film. Everything looks fantastic but then, I’ve never had a problem with the visuals on a Garland movie. Usually, my biggest problem with the writer/director is that he has a decent enough and intriguing set up and then kinda runs out of steam or becomes too obvious towards the end of his films. This one, however, doesn’t over explain or telegraph anything and also relies quite heavily on the viewer to bring their own interpretation with them... at least I hope that was the idea because, while I felt like I was being prodded but not quite beaten over the head by the slightly misogynistic male attitudes on display in the film, I did get the impression that we were also supposed to decode it in our own way. So, yeah, sorry if that’s not the case but that’s the impression I got from it.
And the special effects of all manner of goriness at the end is truly startling. You’ve seen some of this done before in various ways, I’m sure but I was surprisingly impressed by the imagination behind the concept of the effects on this one. The film is also full of signifiers to various things which may or may not symbolise rebirth or, in the case of a whole bunch of apples falling off a tree on cue, perhaps that should be ripening? Either way, the film leaves a lot unsaid and, in the case of this one, I think it’s better off that way. Oh... Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow provide one of their highly listenable scores for this but, alas, so far (at time of writing) there’s no glimpse of a proper CD release being on the cards anytime soon.
So, yeah, a short review of Men but I did enjoy this one and it turns out it’s a very nice slice of intrigue in the folk horror vein... linked to a kind of meditation on guilt but, again, whether it’s a metaphor for redemption or abuse is a question for each member of the audience, I suspect. This one’s worth a watch though, for sure.