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Men fits the bill as this year’s truly surreal and risk-taking horror drama from A24 Films. Writer/director Alex Garland has a remarkable ability to blend genres in peculiar ways, but they don’t all necessarily pay off. Men is divisive storytelling that begins as an eerie horror film and transforms into something truly bizarre.
‘Men’ finds Harper seeking healing
Harper (Jessie Buckley) is a young woman who finds the perfect English countryside home to rent for her solo vacation. Her late husband, James (Paapa Essiedu), died under particularly troubling circumstances that continue to haunt her. Harper hopes that the beautiful retreat will allow her to begin to heal.
Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) is the property owner, who gives Harper a warm welcome onto the property. However, her solitary walks in nature and hours of relaxation indoors only last so long. A series of terrifying incidents lead Harper to believe that something much more sinister is going on and she has nowhere to run.
Writer/director Alex Garland explores themes of grief, religion, and love
Men digs its teeth into its thematic storytelling, rather than entirely depending on a linear narrative. Harper finds herself among beautiful surroundings that give her a sense of freedom that she hasn’t had for quite some time. She experiences wonderment in simple things, such as running through the rain and creating music with her voice in a tunnel. Everything has a meaning that relates back to love, but they amount to something so much larger than Harper’s story.
Garland explores positive and negative depictions of love, simultaneously uplifting it and perverting it. Flashbacks slowly reveal more about Harper’s relationship with James, which rests at the core of the film’s motivations and its greatest horrors. The face originally seen on Geoffrey appears in many places to follow, as this pattern becomes increasingly haunting. Men consistently operates from a place of voyeurism in a world where there is no safety.
Religion and grief are deeply intertwined from the very beginning of Men. There are jokes about forbidden fruit that certainly feel more like a warning than a jab. The historical context of the nearby church, the misogynistic views of the locals, and Harper’s vacation home itself all contribute to a tale that is rather prophetic and destined.
‘Men’ is odd and surreal, albeit daring
Garland makes voyeurism a major element of both the plot and his directing style. The audience is frequently watching Harper like an unwelcomed spectator. Men has a lot to say about masculinity, but it isn’t as heavy-handed as one might think. Garland allows the characters to speak for themselves without necessarily bashing the viewer over the head with it.
Cinematographer Rob Hardy delivers breathtaking beauty in the English countryside. The greens constantly pop amongst the lively fields, but he makes full use of much harsher atmospheres as the film plays out. Garland once again proves more than proficient behind the camera, even though there is some questionable CGI that doesn’t quite work.
Men has one of the gnarliest body horror gross-out moments in recent memory that will be on the lips of every audience member. However, Men doesn’t only rely on the grotesque to get a reaction from its audience, as there are some genuinely eerie moments.
Men is just as much about women as it is about men. The film is absolutely dripping in atmosphere and tension. Buckley and Kinnear fulfill exceptional work in Garland’s most odd and surreal work to date. Men is very daring horror cinema that takes big risks in its third act that don’t entirely pay off. Nevertheless, you can’t help but admire it for refusing to compromise.
Men creeps into theaters on May 20.
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