​'Men' Is a Bit Meh

Directed by Alex Garland

Starring Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, Gayle Rankin

BY Rachel HoPublished May 18, 2022

Men, the third effort from Alex Garland, continues the director's exploration of the surreal, as he explores toxic masculinity and attempts to show the world through the eyes of women. While the themes of Men are overt, its Garland's cinematic prowess that elevates the film.

Harper (Jessie Buckley) retreats to the English countryside to unwind and regroup following the end of her marriage. She books herself into a gorgeous cottage in a quaint village, excited to breathe in the fresh country air and leave the hustle and bustle of London behind her. After being shown around the property by the bumbling and endearing landlord (Rory Kinnear), she sets out on a walk in nature and comes across a naked man (Kinnear again) in a field who follows her back to her cottage. 

After reporting her stalker to the police, she visits the local pub, where the arresting officer (Kinnear once more) informs her they have released the man as they didn't have enough to hold him, a move which is meant with indifference by the men around her. Throughout the film, we see Harper encounter man after man (yes, you guessed it, all played by Kinnear) with varying degrees of discomfort. 

Having Kinnear play every male character (save for Harper's husband, a great Paapa Essiedu in a small but crucial role) is an interesting choice. An inference could be drawn that Garland is theorizing that women view all men in the same way, that the gender is a monolith defined by creepy, untoward behaviour. Or, perhaps, it speaks to the grief Harper is experiencing, as she gives no indication of bother that the young rude schoolboy at the chapel shares the same face as the barkeeper and vicar. 

Both Kinnear and Buckley turn in wonderful performances. Kinnear, of course, has a lot to work with, and he delivers each character perfectly. In her first role since her Academy Award nomination for The Lost Daughter, Buckley remains excellent despite Harper being an oddly thin character. Harper isn't given much of a backstory; viewers are provided with just enough details to take away any mystique, and yet not enough to amount to a fully realized character. 

Men is an interesting film for the majority of its runtime. It balances discomfort with moments of immediate horror nicely. In the final third of the film, however, Garland jumps the shark. In a sequence that can only be described as expressive body horror, Men suddenly becomes a bit of a head-scratcher. Rather than go out in quiet, meditative reflection, Garland burns it all down in a bloody, gory fire. 

These criticisms of the story and character aside, Men is an incredibly well-composed film. Garland teams up with cinematographer Rob Hardy once again and, just as the duo previously did with Ex Machina and Annihilation, they nail the balance between beauty and terror. Hardy takes the brilliant oranges and yellows of a sunset along the Thames and transforms it into the warning signs of a marriage gone wrong. And the serene countryside, vast and lush with green foliage and pretty bluebells, contorts quickly into an eerie nightmare with seemingly no exit. 

The score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury adds a tremendous mood to the film, aided by excellent sound design and editing. The use of throat singing and chamber music recalls patriarchal traditions, complementing the themes of Men very nicely. When Harper screams out, her pain turns into Medieval musical tones, aligning her grief with that of generations before her.

Men is so well acted and so well crafted that the storytelling misses stick out like a sore thumb. A film that is so close to being great ends instead with a disappointing sigh. 
(VVS Films)

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