There’s body horror and then there’s Men, a visceral and provocative film that will have your guts dancing.
The provocative and daring film Men crescendos in a wild climax that isn’t quite The Human Centipede but not ‘not’ The Human Centipede either.
With a breathtaking scene that is visually, emotionally, intellectually and – it must be said – intestinally challenging, Men writer and director Alex Garland doesn’t hesitate to make you feel a little queasy.
His works, including films Ex Machina and Destruction and miniseries developersare both cerebral and experiential.
They will always evoke a deep-seated feeling in your gut, influenced by an emotional response you don’t see coming, while at the same time trying, sometimes in vain, to organize the story logically in your mind.
Just like that final in Men, a scene in which – without revealing too much – blood, amniotic fluid, body horror and an awful lot of twists and turns. It’s the classic Garland.
Men plays the incomparable Jessie Buckley as Harper, a young woman who has rented an idyllic English country house for two weeks. Harper recently suffered a tragedy involving her former husband James (Paapa Essiedu), and the holiday was said to be Harper’s healing, self-care break.
Upon her arrival, the owner of the house, Geoffrey, gives her the tour and he is an affable, well-meaning but paternalistic sulk. Little comments and “jokes” about original sin and Harper’s name sideline her. It’s not explicit, but the undercurrent of casual sexism is always there.
Harper is taking a walk through the surrounding woods and she senses an evil presence haunting her. The village vicar says to help but condemns her for her husband’s fate, a cheeky schoolboy calls her out and a male police officer allays her well-founded fear.
The scenic countryside getaway turns into a horror movie as it exploits the horrors women feel on a daily basis, from low levels of unease to outright danger. Some scenes trigger the same all-too-familiar acceleration of the heart rate that accompanies the sound of heavy footsteps on a dimly lit street.
It effectively shows that patriarchy and misogyny is everywhere, by Scottish actor Rory Kinnear (skyfall† Peterloo) play all male characters except Harper’s husband, and match it back to the Pagan Green Man.
The fact that every man and boy in the village has the same face is never commented on in-universe and for most of the last act you wonder if everything that happens to Harper is a living nightmare or just a nightmare .
Still, Men is probably Garland’s least successful attempt. The movie’s theme, #YesAllMen, lacks the nuance to really address the issue of gender-based violence, micro-aggressions and toxic masculinity.
Garland has never been one to act with meekness or restraint, so it’s easy to understand his choices in Men within his broader oeuvre.
If Garland wants to tackle the primary, cyclical nature of misogyny he will resort to that climax, he will literally be in his executions the same way he was in Destruction by pitting Natalie Portman’s character against her doppelganger.
But it feels a little heavy-handed, even for Garland, and like he’s missed the opportunity to be considered equally in his storytelling if he’s ambitious in his cinematic vision.
While Men is flawed and ultimately a bit unsatisfactory, there’s no denying that it’s an extraordinary, daring and stimulating film that challenges you in every way – that’s what Garland does best.
They are now playing in the cinema
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