UK (2022) Dir. Alex Garland
Apparently, we chaps are all the same according to women. I don’t think that is true as we come in shapes, sizes, ages, creeds and colours which is a glaringly obvious way to expose the flaw in this assertion. Of course, they are referring to the emotional aspect of our personalities, but even then, I would beg to differ. Then run away quickly!
Following the suicide of her husband James (Paapa Essiedu), Harper Marlowe (Jessie Buckley) decides to escape London, taking a short break in the small village of Cotson, Hertfordshire. She stays at a quaint country house owned by Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), a well-meaning but eccentric man. While investigating her new surroundings, Harper finds a quite forest near by the train track, spotting a man she thinks is following her.
Back at the house the next day, Harper is spooked by a naked man in the garden, who the police quickly subdue and arrest with ease. However, Harper is still struggling with her emotions over James’ suicide, which isn’t helped by the local vicar apportioning some blame on Harper. The more Harper tries to fit in with the area, the less safe she feels, especially learning the naked man has been released from custody.
It feels like a spoiler to mention this so early on but at it is the main and inescapable conceit of the film, I have no option. One reason, at least for the audience, as to why Harper isn’t safe is because every man in the village resembles Geoffrey – the stalker, the vicar, the policeman, the pub landlord, the mouthy teen, they all have the same face. Maybe now the opening paragraph of this review makes some sense.
Not that this isn’t a blatant gimmick to get the point across that “all men are the same” but to give writer-director Alex Garland credit, he did think of it before the rest of us and it is pretty cool regardless. Men however is less about the male race itself rather the idea of toxic masculinity blighting Harper’s life, but old via a male perspective that actually doesn’t offer any real empathy or support to women.
James is something of a stereotype, the distrusting, bullying alpha male who projects his pain onto Harper, and expects her to apologise to him! An argument over a phone and a punch is the beginning of the end for the relationship. James tries to guilt trip Harper by saying he will kill himself if she divorces him, but she throws him out anyway. A few moments later, his body plummets past the window and James’ body is impaled on the metal fence below.
With only her friend Riley (Gayle Rankin) for support – shown mostly via Facetime on the phone – Harper is a lone woman in a man’s world. At first, the verdant serenity of her rural hideaway feels like another universe to metropolitan Harper and she is smitten. There is a whimsically lovely scene in a deep tunnel where Harper makes music with her voice and the echo of the cavernous passageway, while bathed in the glow of the green walls that surround her.
This is as uplifting as the film gets, as from hereafter, it turns into an extended episode of Inside No. 9, maybe and unfair comparison but the prosthetics used to add something unique to Geoffrey’s multiple faces make us think we are watching Steve Pemberton or Reese Shearsmith instead; Geoffrey has a dimpled nose and pronounced teeth whilst the vicar has long white hair and a slight overbite. The teenager is a bit of a stretch from having the same deep voice but kudos to the VFX team for pulling it off.
Harper is the only female in town, aside from a policewoman, yet interestingly she isn’t seen as a sexual prospect by frustrated libidinous males. The vicar is a bit of a sleaze but the rest seem to possess far more unsavoury thoughts and intentions regarding this city based interloper. Gradually morphing into a home invasion thriller, Garland puts Harper through hell using a few favoured tricks from horror cinema and a couple of new ones, all to great effect I must add.
Essentially, the first half of the film is all about atmosphere, creating what is an idyllic country village locale and covering it in glitter, yet the air remains silent and foreboding. A stop off at the church is an eerie experience from a combination of moody dynamics and the unpleasant stone carvings and gothic iconography, taking into small statues of legendary folklore beasts with priapic implications in their design. Always a bad sign.
You can tell this is a remote setting and the outcome won’t be pretty since most horror films located in the middle of nowhere have some religious ties to pagan traditions that are arcane to outsiders; not a problem, they aren’t supposed to live that long anyway. Harper is naturally the exception, but only after she witnesses an especially gory and symbolic – or more accurately, blatant – rebirth of her trauma in physical form, another triumph for the VFX team.
On top form as ever, Jessie Buckley turns in another emotionally rich performance as Harper, embracing the strength and defiance of her character but not afraid to show her vulnerable side. Rory Kinnear excels playing multiple roles (and one CGI role), proving to be a literal chameleon in the gruesome finale. Garland’s direction is tight and the layout of the scares is carefully structured; the only area he fails in is providing an explanation or context for Harper’s ordeal beyond the implied Pagan connections.
Men might strive to be a decidedly extreme signal of solidarity to abused, maligned, or marginalised women, yet only manages to meet half this remit. It’s a tidy horror film with stunning visuals that struggles to make its message sufficiently clear nor does it explain why Harper doesn’t notice everyone has the same face.
2 thoughts on “Movie Review – Men”
Hey, enjoyed this review! 😊 I’m not a fan of horror so I skipped this upon its release, but I recall reading lots of reviews saying this film was just subpar and lacked good execution. While the premise of it that you highlighted definitely seemed interesting and promising, seems like there definitely was a struggle in some departments that made it less than amazing overall.
Thanks for the comment!
I think subpar is a bit harsh as it is very well made and acted, the problem is twofold – one, it is never acknowledged if Harper could see al the men had the same face, and two, writer-director Alex Garland admitted he didn’t know how to wrap the story up, which explains the flat ending. So, it was on the cusp of being something really good but as is often the case, it was let down by the ending, despite the gruesome visual crescendo leading into it.
Something I didn’t mention was there is a spot that is a direct lift from “Get Out” (albeit with a different result) that was quite bold, unless Garland was banking on some of the audience having not seen Peele’s film first.
But if you’re not a horror fan then it’s probably wise you give this a miss as it does get very nasty! 😮
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