Men Isn’t for Feminists, nor the Faint of Heart
The latest A24 horror film proves to be a standout but not in the way its creators most likely wanted it to be.
The film is directed by Alex Garland known for experimental horror and psychological thriller films Annihilation and Ex Machina. Men is his latest attempt to convey ideas of grief, the cycle of abuse, and toxicity. Much like his previous films, Men stars the archetypal troubled but introspective female protagonist Harper played by Jessie Buckley. Her performance is by far the most compelling aspect of the film though the clunky script doesn’t give her much to work with.
The first act of the film sees Harper traveling to the English countryside in hopes to heal from a traumatic incident regarding her husband James (Paapa Essiedu). When she arrives at the small village all seems quaint and serene but soon she encounters a group of men who continuously terrorize her.
Rory Kinnear of Penny Dreadful delivers widely polarizing performances as each of the men stalking Harper from an ominous naked man usually leering close to the house she’s staying into Jeffrey the seemingly well-intentioned landlord with a perfected creepy smile. The beautiful setting of the English countryside is further illustrated by Gloucestershire where some of the film was shot. The memorable and haunting tunnel scene was filmed in the Forest of Dean with lush scenery allowing Buckley to stand out even more amongst the natural backdrop.
The cinematography is rather bland even when capturing such an aesthetically pleasing location. Certain scenes are jumpy, repeated, and slowed down in suspenseful moments that poorly contrast what’s happening on screen and the audience’s adrenaline. The entire exposition is really nothing but that as the film tries to splice in scenes of Harper and James and then cuts to Harper processing the grief while on her vacation, usually followed by another Rory Kinnear character introduced to unnerve her even more. When things start to spiral out of control the typical horror tropes are all that can be offered as flashing lights, intense music, and lots and lots of blood floods the screen and barely seems to phase our protagonist at all, which doesn’t allow the viewer to suspend disbelief.
Towards the end of the film, once Harper has entered the quintessential “final girl” status the film deteriorates into a graphic, brutal depiction of how toxicity breeds more toxicity a theme commonly discussed in today’s post #MeToo world.
The problem with Men besides it being an intended feminist film directed by a man is the execution of its very easy to comprehend themes delivered in such a jarring way that the audience is left feeling completely disoriented and with less of an understanding of toxic masculinity than they possibly had in the first place. Men‘s final scene is eye-roll inducing to say the least, as its last reach to expand its themes and messaging comes off as cringe-worthy and that’s if you’ve healed from what your eyes just witnessed in the previous scene.
Negative thoughts aside, this movie will not continue to further the conversation about the hostile environment created by toxic masculinity and other behaviors that are a threat to women in society. Instead, this film will most likely remain a joke at best and an offensive allegory at worse.