Review: Men

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Title: Men
Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 1 hr 40 mins

What It Is: In the aftermath of a personal tragedy, Harper (Jessie Buckley) retreats alone to the beautiful English countryside, hoping to find a place to heal. But someone or something from the surrounding woods appears to be stalking her. What begins as simmering dread becomes a fully-formed nightmare, inhabited by her darkest memories and fears.

What We Think: Men, out in theaters just this weekend, is an allegorical, ominous, and vividly duplicitous experience. Alex Garland is known for hinting at/experimenting with Lovecraftian elements in his work, but never to this extent, I’m afraid. What starts out as whispers and shouts of a psychological horror/drama evolves into something… abnormal. While Men will most certainly instill a sense of dread and terror within the viewer, it will also test the limits of how much of that terror they can take.

The film is shot beautifully, with an ethereal use of colors and depth of field, as well as lighting tricks that distort and confuse what we see, which plays perfectly into the overall tone here. Harsh shadows and hazy glows are cast over the horrors our main character Harper has to revisit and endure. Alluring to look at, yet unsettling to watch – in fact, the same can be said for the performances. The captivating Jessie Buckley is the body of the film, while Rory Kinnear is its shadow. Buckley dips into so many different emotions, a spectrum of grief, panic, and rage that reminds us how incredible of an actor she is. The scenes she shares with Paapa Essiedu (who is a brilliant force of nature) show these emotional heights to an almost intrusive level. As for Rory Kinnear… wow. When we’re first introduced to his character, there’s something that certainly feels a bit off about his mannerisms – when the mystery our main character encounters starts to unravel, so does Kinnear’s performance. He does something fascinating in this role which is apparent once you see the film, and it relates to what I previously mentioned about spectrums…

The sound design is beautifully done, engrossing us with the subtlest movements and brushes (like a hand sliding across a seatbelt or a specific rustle of a branch), and the score is as haunting as it is strangely harmonic, with the power of choir and voice playing a huge role. The outstanding factors of Men are its imagery, sounds, and performances. However, there is a particular gripe that many might have with the film, which would be the execution of the story. Those unfamiliar with Garland’s previous works will certainly be jarred by the elements that come into play, especially in the final half-hour, which so far is the most absolutely incredulous finale to a film this year so far. It also stretches the film’s R rating past its natural limits, so if you’re expecting a romp similar to that of a Scream film or a Midsommaryou’ll get a mix of the two – yet amplified and at some points, revolting. What oddly delights me about this is that A24 continues to allow freedom for storytellers who want to go above and beyond, or in this case, beyond.

Our Grade: B+; A gorgeously shot and well-acted horror experience, but at times suspicious in revealing its true intentions, Men is a beguiling third feature from Alex Garland. Once the credits start rolling, you will be either bewildered, concerned, disturbed, moved, or all of that at once.

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