- Directed by Alex Garland
- Starring Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, Gayle Rankin
What’s great about Alex Garland as a writer is the fact that every work of his is a massive swing. He’s more like a star baseball player then that of a genre fiction creator in that, when up to the plate, makes every hit as loud and as exciting as possible at the risk of just missing entirely. It works out about 90% of the time too, as mostly you’ll get something like Ex Machina or Annihilation, his last two directorial efforts which are among the best science fiction of the past several years. His obsession with using the material to explore the immaterial along with his great usage of sci-fi visuals create a unique mix of psychedelic imagery and emotional catharsis that’s rarely replicated and this even translates to his solo writing efforts like the excellent 28 Days Later.
But then you have Men, Garland’s first true full “swing and a miss” in a very long time and also might be one of his biggest thuds in the water entirely. Taking a step back from science fiction and heading straight into oddball, surrealist body horror, Men has an interesting conceit on paper. A woman moving into a country house where all the men look exactly the same? Creepy as hell. Same woman having to deal with the emotional trauma of her ex-husband’s emotional abuse? Now you have a movie!
Unfournately Garland seems to have mostly just stopped there, as Men is so toothless in it’s plot ideas that it mostly wanders around (quite literally in some cases) for the majority of it’s runtime. There have been comparisons made to mother! from a couple of years ago and while that film used it’s claustrophobic environment and it’s lack of music to emphasize it’s biblical narrative, Men goes in the opposite direction, honing in on the biblical and ignoring most of everything else to it’s detriment. And it’s not clear in what exactly the film is supposed to be biblically based on – the story of Adam and Eve, maybe? Is this a fault of the film or simply my lack of understand for what exactly Garland was going for here?
Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t really present itself well as for a horror film, it’s decidedly unscary. Sure, there are images here that are disturbing as hell and the last 15 minutes will be seared into your brain, but it takes so long to get there and the tension is mostly relegated to “guy in the background looks creepy”. When compared to it’s horror counterparts, or hell even the horror elements in something like Annihilation, it’s woefully weak and has to rely on Jessie Buckley’s performance to carry it. Which she does for a good portion of this; her first leading role, in fact, and a great showcase as to why she will likely explode in the next couple of years as the next “it girl”.
But even that is short lived as she is forced to mainly stare at the weird events happening around her in the last act, which yes, is mostly gnarly and wicked body horror that’s up there with the likes of Cronenberg. And then the film ends shortly after with very little fanfare leaving yourself mostly asking “what was the point of all of this?”. Is it that men are inherently alike in the ways they subtly manipulate and torment women? Is it about the cycle of patriarchal violence? Or is it more about how toxic masculinity breeds into itself? I don’t think the film knows beyond “Men suck bro” which yes, they do, but not exactly a particularly enthralling statement or interesting argument.
Honestly though the fact that a movie called Men is disappointing could also be a part of a bigger joke, that somehow we were expecting Men in the first place to be anything other then a waste of time and ideas that we’ve already seen before. If that’s the case, then bravo to Alex Garland for the best meta joke in years. But if it isn’t, then this is really Garland’s first real misfire and it’s a damn shame it had to be one so wonderfully weird and ambitious. More body horror, less treading water please.