A young widow is harassed by a monstrous parade of men in Alex Garland’s creepy horror film Men

In England no one can hear you screaming.

That seems to be the premise of Alex Garland’s Men, whose grieving protagonist (Jessie Buckley) plays feral, earth-shattering bellows in all sorts of places: the bathtub, a church, the claustrophobic hallways of a mansion. Each time, her roars go unheard by those around her, even if they risk shattering an errant wine glass at the cinema.

Buckley is Harper Marlowe, a recent widow whose husband James (Paapa Essiedu), in a fit of rage, tripped — or jumped — off a high balcony, a tragedy rendered in syrupy slow motion in the opening shot of Men. Harper can only watch in horror as James falls past her, shrouded in an impressionistic sunset glow – a sight that continues to haunt us time and time again.

In the aftermath, Harper retreats to an off-grid estate for a weekend, ostensibly hoping to shed her grief with an ointment as old as time: fresh air and nature, hours away from any sign of life—at least she thinks so.

“The landscape of [the film] seduces you so that you never really feel like you’re standing on solid ground,” Buckley (pictured) told Vanity Fair.Delivered: Roadshow

No sooner has she arrived than disturbing sights begin to sprout from the mansion’s walls, painted blood red (perhaps an all-too-obvious sign of things to come). It opens with the appearance of Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), her corny-mouthed landlord, whose bumbling mannerisms and slightly uncolored jokes can hide threatening intentions.

Then, during a video call with her friend Riley (Glow’s Gayle Rankin, who’s underused here), Harper’s phone screen stutters in an instant—and you’ll miss it—jump scare, warping into a Lovecraftian swamp of flesh and blood—an eerie, misshapen pair of lips locked in an eternal scream.

That glitch teases a connection to Garland’s earlier films — imaginary sci-fi parables that deal with the dystopian implications of technological advancement. In the British director’s Oscar-nominated Ex Machina (2014), a gifted, macho type from Silicon Valley develops the perfect fembot prototype.

In its sequel, an atmospheric adaptation of the critically acclaimed sci-fi saga Annihilation (2018), Natalie Portman stars as a biologist who leads a group of female commandos into a mysterious zone called “the Shimmer,” where their military weapons are defenseless. against an inexplicable force penetrating their bodies.

Bald white man stands shirtless and bloodied with a green leaf taped to his forehead from inside a dark pit.
“I think differently [audience] reactions depend a lot on… how open they are to a movie like this,” Kinnear (pictured) told the Independent.Delivered: Roadshow

Garland’s last one, however, is somewhat of a left turn. Like Ex Machina and Annihilation, it’s a chamber music piece – it isolates the characters in a rural sanctuary that turns nightmarish, letting them unravel the gnarled despair that plagues them. But one chooses the sci-fi tropics down in favor of something more sinister.

It fits right in with the recent spate of so-called lofty horror movies, which use the sticky gore of their predecessors as metaphors for greater existential dread.

Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommar are the cornerstones of this genre, offering grand musings on family dysfunction and relationship problems. Closer to home, Australian films Relic and cult favorite The Babadook have also told twisting tales of intergenerational trauma and motherhood in ghostly, skin-crawling fashion.

And with a title like that, One could only be a horror movie.

Unfortunately, the title is also where it seems to reside.

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