Whenever a man is accused of a crime against a woman, inevitably someone in the comments replies with “Not all Men!”. What Alex Garland’s film presupposes is… what if it was?
Jessie Buckley stars as Harper Marlowe, a woman recovering from the loss of her husband. Having booked herself a getaway to try and begin the grieving process, she finds herself tormented and terrorised by a series of similar looking individuals.
Pulling not double duty but septuple duty, Rory Kinnear provides the many faces given to Harper’s lament.
Why exactly does everyone look the same in the village? While there are allusions to folk horror and biblical references, the truth is probably much simpler. Harper is a woman who has experienced massive pain. As the priest she meets tells her, she’s “haunted”. Through flashbacks we learn that her husband was physically and emotionally manipulative and abusive.
The complicated relationship between man and woman is not new territory for Garland. His previous two efforts as writer-director have both explored that issue. Ex_Machina saw two men debate the authenticity of a “woman” while Annihilation saw a group of woman confront their own mortality to discover what happened to another team of men.
Here, Harper has been forever changed by her husband’s behaviour. Tainted even. Now every man is merely an avatar for her mistrust and fear. It is about as subtle as blunt force trauma. It brings to mind the Garth Merenghi quote “I know writers who use subtext and they are cowards”.
However it does allow for Rory Kinnear to mine every last crevice of his incredible range. From Geoffrey, the posh (probable Tory voting) host seemingly inspired by Dom from Gogglebox, a mysterious naked man in the woods and an unsettling priest to a creepy young boy with violent tendencies.
It is a testament to his skill that the premise never feels gimmicky. Helped by sparring opposite the eternally fantastic Buckley.
As one of A24’s “elevated horrors”, it works best when it leans into the classic trope of the home invasion angle. Using the setup of the host giving the guest a tour of the holiday home, it provides the audience with the layout of the house. All the entry and exit points. The places where danger can lurk or attack from.
Garland delivers a taut, effective set piece before throwing caution to the wind and the film descends into an absolutely bonkers third act. The grotesque body horror on display will have audiences wondering what the hell they just witnessed.
There are no easy answers here. This is a film that is designed to provoke a strong, visceral reaction. Audiences will undoubtably have opinions. Good and bad. Some will find a lot to admire. Some will loathe it, particularly men. Well, not all men.
Men is in cinemas from June 1
Director: Alex Garland
Stars: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Rory Kinnear, Rory Kinnear
Runtime: 106 minutes