I’m a big fan of Alex Garland. He’s written some great films like 28 Days Later, but in my opinion, he does his best work when he’s both the writer and the director. I absolutely love Ex Machina and Annihilation, so when I heard Garland was coming out with a new movie called Men, I was instantly intrigued. Then, when I heard this was going to be a horror film, my excitement for it went through the roof, and after getting a chance to see it, I’m happy to say that I was not disappointed…for the most part.
Written and directed by Alex Garland, Men stars Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear. It’s about a woman named Harper who goes to the countryside to heal after her husband kills himself, but soon after she arrives, we find that there’s something a bit off about the place. For example, the men there all have very similar faces, and every single one of them treats her in an abusive and/or belittling way. But worst of all, she quickly finds herself being stalked by a strange, seemingly homeless man, and by the end of the film, Harper learns that all of these odd goings on are deeply connected.
Like I said, I really enjoyed Men, and there were three things in particular about it that really stood out to me. First, let’s talk about the cinematography. While I wouldn’t say this movie is quite as beautifully shot as, say, The Green Knight, there are quite a few moments that are absolutely stunning, so even when nothing particularly interesting was happening on screen, I still found myself really enjoying the look of this film.
Next, we have the acting, and this is probably the movie’s biggest strength. It’s basically just a two-person show, and both of its leads are phenomenal. Let’s start with Jessie Buckley. She totally nails this role, so I had no trouble buying into Harper from the very first time I saw her. Buckley makes the character feel incredibly real and natural, so no matter what she was doing, whether it was something deep and emotional like reliving her trauma or something super mundane like talking on the phone, I was absolutely captivated by her performance.
In contrast, Rory Kinnear doesn’t own his role in quite the same way, but he does something equally impressive. He plays all the men in the village, so he has to give multiple performances and make each one feel like a unique individual. And he completely nails it. He displays incredible range here, going from awkward and almost bumbling to refined and nearly majestic without even breaking a sweat. He reminded me a lot of James McAvoy in Split and Glass, and while I think McAvoy’s performance in those movies is a smidge better, Kinnear still gives a tour de force in this film.
Last but not least, we have the horror, and although this is the one area where I thought Men stumbled just a bit, I still thought the good in it far outweighed the bad. This is an A24 movie, so it’s a bit of a slow burn, but it’s not quite as slow as I was expecting. The horror doesn’t really kick into gear until about an hour in, but there is one legit horror sequence at around the 20-minute mark. It’s a nice little taste of what we can expect from the third act, and it manages to balance creepiness and genuine terror in a really effective way.
Then, when the horror really gets going 40 minutes later, the movie throws the kitchen sink at you, and it doesn’t let up until the very end. This part of the film has some really great gore, a handful of genuinely terrifying jump scares, and some of the best suspense and tension I’ve seen all year. It all works really well. Garland hits just the right horror buttons at just the right moment every single time, and I ate up every single second of it.
Until the last 10 minutes, that is. After all that great horror, Men takes a really weird and unnecessary turn, and to be frank, it began to lose me after a few minutes. I obviously don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m going to be vague here. This last sequence in the movie features some of the most bizarre body horror I’ve ever seen, and while I appreciated that, it just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story.
I think I understand what Garland was going for thematically (although it’s tough to tell because it’s so weird), but on a narrative level, it just didn’t feel like a natural conclusion to everything that came before it. It left a really bad taste in my mouth, so while I still liked the movie overall, these last 10 minutes turned what could’ve been a great film into a merely very good one.
On top of that, I also had one other big problem with Men. As you can probably tell from the title and the premise alone, this movie is all about how terrible men can be to women, and I thought the metaphor was a little too on the nose. Don’t get me wrong, I really like that message, but after a while, it just felt like Alex Garland was beating me over the head with it, so I would’ve preferred something at least a bit more subtle.
But at the end of the day, those two complaints are nowhere near enough to ruin the film. Sure, the ending really took it down a notch, but a very good movie is still exactly that—a very good movie. The good cinematography, excellent acting, and effective horror make this one of the best genre films of the first half of 2022, so if you’re looking for something new to watch this weekend, I highly recommend that you check out Men.
Men is playing in theaters right now.