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Men ★★



Directed: Alex Garland

Cast: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, and Gayle Rankin

Release: June 1, 2022 (U.K.)

With Alex Garland’s insistent ingenuity in writing and directing spheres of both film and television, it’s beguiling that Men is aggressively one-note despite the film’s formal accomplishments. Strengthened by the consistently enthralling Jessie Buckley and what is undoubtedly a new side to Rory Kinnear, the film is nonetheless weighed down by its muddled depiction of guilt in grief. It never goes beyond the initial premise the trailers present. The performances feel restricted by Garland’s belaboured point of the power dynamics of victim-blaming between the genders, his imagery, thankfully, taking centre stage to provide at least the film’s crescendo with a new way to voice its message, even if it is as repetitive as the film that came before it.

Following an attempted divorce and ensuing suicide with her ex-husband, Harper (Jessie Buckley) goes to the English countryside in hopes of healing. Instead, things are not as they appear as all the village men appear to be the same, with several stalking her, instigating memories of her husband as she tries to figure out what is after her and why.

Men is unfortunately mostly comprised of walking scenes where vaguely creepy things happen, Jessie Buckley reacts, has a memory, and the cycle repeats. This leaves little room for Harper’s journey to be explored with any real nuance, the film seemingly missing a second act that leaves out her healing processes, instead just showing her fear at the oddities around her and the final confrontation as a result of her perceived “meddling” in this realm of the English countryside. From male Brexit mentality to gaslighting as a form of victim shaming to the abusive power men wield against other genders, the film’s themes are well articulated early on, but they never develop beyond this. It makes Men a cumbersome watch as by the time you reach the final act, and these themes are so perfunctory that the horror doesn’t play as frightening, but rather tiring, regardless of some fascinating body horror.

Garland has not given his characters development and his setting any nuance or personality, which is never more evident than with Rory Kinnear, whose range is incredible but truncated by Garland’s script, reducing them to a homogenous representation. One could see Garland arguing that this is the point. Still, beyond prosthetics, Kinnear is essentially the same man, rather than all the men sharing idiosyncrasies or qualities that would make the proceedings more horrifying: all these men are individuals, and yet they act so similarly, a feat that misses the mark here where films such as Split or Anomalisa succeeded.

With Men coming shortly after Devs, the disappointments of the film are infinitely compounded as that miniseries felt like Garland was at the peak of his powers, exploring ideas and characters that are distinctly his with verve, passion and ingenuity. While not without its merits, namely Buckley’s intensity and Garland’s clear, gradual improvement and confidence with visuals that compliment his entertaining third act, Men feels unfortunately half-baked; like a short story that was incredibly incisive in its gender politics and environmental connections, but as a feature, it at times can feel pandering or aimless, and worst of all, simple from a filmmaker/writer that is capable of an infinitude of complexity.

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