Alex Garland’s latest film “Men” is deliberately disorienting and baffling with the warped reality surrounding its heroine. While we can sense from the beginning that something is not so right, the movie keeps catching us off guard via a number of odd and disturbing moments, and you may find yourself scratching your head a bit on what is really happening to her.
The setting of the story is very simple to say the least. The heroine is a young woman named Harper Marlowe (Jessie Buckley), and, after an alarming flashback opening scene, we see her driving her car to some rural village where she is supposed to stay alone for a while. The holiday house for her, which is your average cozy British country house, is already prepared well, and she is greeted by a rather eccentric middle-aged dude who is incidentally the owner of this lovely house.
After looking around here and there inside the house along with the owner, she is eventually left alone in the house, and she really hopes that she will have some peace of mind after one tragically shocking incident involved with her husband. As shown from a series of flashback scenes, she already decided to stay away from him as soon as possible for understandable reasons, but she feels guilty about what subsequently happened, and the resulting trauma seems to be hovering over her mind no matter how much she tries to calm herself more.
Thanks to the tranquil bucolic environment surrounding her, she gets a bit relaxed at least. It often looks like there is no one around her in the surrounding area, so she can take a walk alone by herself without any interference, and we later get an interesting aural moment when she comes across a big tunnel in a nearby forest. As she makes sounds, the tunnel functions as a sort of echo chamber, and that reminds us more of her current solitary status.
However, it soon turns out that she is not alone at all. She spots a mysterious figure at the opposite side of the tunnel, and she quickly leaves the spot when this figure starts to approach to her. Not long after that, she spots a naked man staring at her from the distance, and she wonders whether this dude is the same guy she encountered at the tunnel.
Is this merely the reflection of her rather stressed mind? The movie does not provide any clear answer for that as toying with the possible unreliability of her viewpoint. When she shows the photograph of that naked man to her female friend during their video call conversation, it is clear that he was really there, and he becomes all the more real when he suddenly appears outside the house, but he remains as mysterious and frightening as before.
Meanwhile, we also come to notice a certain strange thing, which becomes more apparent as several male supporting characters appear along the story. I will not go into details here for not spoiling anything, but I can tell you instead that I admire how the movie pushes its relevant ideas on toxic masculinity as far as possible, and that somehow makes sense with its heroine’s ongoing psychological struggles.
In the end, the movie reaches to the climax sequence which is a naughty cross among “Repulsion” (1965), “Straw Dogs” (1971), and “The Shining” (1980), and that is where we become more uncertain about whatever is experienced by our heroine. While there are several certain incidents which did happen as far as we can see, there is not much sensible explanation on how the hell these incidents could happen, and even the other viewpoint besides our heroine’s in the story does not help much.
Nevertheless, the movie holds our attention till its gruesome finale via its increasingly disturbing atmosphere. Because this part comes to feel rather repetitive, I doubt whether it works as well as intended by Garland, but I still appreciate how daringly he attempts to emulate the body horror of David Cronenberg’s films.
Above all, almost everything in the film is held together well by the strong presence of Jessie Buckley, who recently received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her supporting turn in “The Lost Daughter” (2021). Her character is more or less than a symbolic character to be disturbed and tormented, but Buckley ably fills the role with enough emotional details, and that is the main reason why the last shot of the movie works despite being a little too ambiguous in my trivial opinion. In case of the other main cast members of the film, Paapa Essiedu and Gayle Rankin did their best with their functional supporting roles, and Rory Kinnear surely has a fun with his challenging but interesting task.
In conclusion, “Men” is not as successful as Garland’s two previous works “Ex Machina” (2014) and “Annihilation” (2018), but it has a fair share of striking moments to remember at least. I am not so sure about whether they actually gel together well enough to generate something coherent, but the movie engaged me at least during its 100-minute running time, and I guess that is enough for recommendation with some caution. Yes, this may not be for everyone, but it is an interesting horror film with some mood and intelligence, and you may try it if you are looking for something different.