I haven’t seen a film recently that I felt compelled to write about. I’ve seen plenty of movies, for sure. Mostly entertaining and worth the watch, but nothing that drove me to sit down and write what I thought of it and share with the universe. That is, until I saw Alex Garland’s Men this past Sunday. That made me want to say a few things.
I walked out of Men with my mind shaken a bit. It brought conversation and discussion and an overall wondering of “What the hell did I just watch?”. As I get older I’m finding I want that feeling after watching a film. I had a decade of Marvel blockbusters that were the go-to entertainment for our family, and that was great. But there wasn’t much to mull over afterwards. It was fun, exciting, emotional at times, and typically involved a trip to the store afterwards to snag an action figure. But thoughtful conversation on allegory, metaphor, and what the filmmaker was trying to say just wasn’t there. Comic book movies are an open book. The older I get I want to think a bit about what I’m watching, or maybe at least there be a deeper meaning within the narrative.
I saw Men with my son, who was my go-to for all the Marvel stuff. But back in 2017 he and I went and saw Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes At Night, which was the beginning of our horror cinema adventures. Hereditary and Midsommar soon followed, along with long conversations afterwards on the drive home or over dinner. It Comes At Night was a real downer, but we still appreciated what was offered. But Ari Aster gave us hours of conversation, as did Men. Oh boy, did it.
If you’re not familiar with it, Men tells the story of a young woman who rents a quaint cottage in a English village hidden in lush forests. The young woman is played by Jessie Buckley. She is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses, after turns in I’m Thinking Of Ending Things and the fourth season of Fargo. She’s getting away for a couple weeks to recover from the death of her husband, whom she saw fall from the balcony of the apartment above theirs. It may have been an accident, or it may have been suicide. She, or we, are never sure. They were in the midst of a divorce, and had just had a pretty bad fight(resulting in a bloody nose for Buckley) minutes before the tragedy.
Buckley arrives at the cottage and is greeted by the owner, played by Rory Kinnear(of the famous pig f*****g episode of Black Mirror). He chides her for eating an apple off of the apple tree in the front yard(yes, a Garden of Eden reference), only to say he’s joking. From this point on, everyone that Buckley’s character comes in contact with is played by Kinnear(with the exception of a female cop and her friend she Facetime’s with played by Gayle Rankin of GLOW and Perry Mason); from a local Vicar to a policeman to the bartender at the pub to the weirdos sitting at a table drinking to the strange naked man that she keeps running into. Oh, and also a 12-year old boy.
That is all I will say about the actual film, as far as what happens on screen. From the outset it feels like a fever dream. Written and Directed by Alex Garland(Ex Machina and Annihilation), Men is saying something and I feel like I connected to it immediately. I may be completely wrong, but I guess when the creator of a film won’t say what he was trying to put across you can come up with your own conclusions. Of course there’s allusions to the Bible and British folk horror, but the film is also about processing grief, feeling trapped in a relationship and needing to free yourself from it, and what controlling and needy men can do to a woman. The ying/yang of being both a bully and a needy little child at the same time. Maybe having every man in the village be the same guy is kind of heavy-handed, but it worked. Every guys she comes in contact with is the same. They’re all the same; condescending, belittling, worthless, violent, and useless in a situation that requires something other than “Love me!”.
The final 20 minutes of this film convinced me of what I had been thinking throughout the film. I won’t say what that is, but I will say it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a film before. It’s graphic, psychedelic, mind-melting, and some of the best body horror I’ve seen in a long while. It’s also quite hilarious if you think about it, but I guess that’s up for you to decide when you watch it. There was plenty of conversation on the way home afterwards. My son ended up going to see it a second time Monday night with two of his friends. I can only imagine the chat three 17-year olds had after that last 20 minutes.
The best movies make me think, and sometimes I’m not even sure I liked it after it ends. But the best ones bring conversation and thinking about what you just saw. I want to be challenged a bit after watching a film, and while I didn’t find Men to be particularly hard to understand or difficult to come up with some theories on what I saw on the screen, the visuals and concepts kind of broke my brain. That’s what I call a great film.
If you appreciate thought-provoking psychological horror with elements of British folk tales, Alfred Hitchcock, amazing sound design, awe-inspiring visuals, and primo body horror, then you need to see Men. Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear are brilliant, as is Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s score. And of course, Alex Garland continues to be one of my favorite filmmakers with another intellectually stimulating and visceral cinematic experience.