If You Don’t Already This British Horror Might Just Make You Fear Men (2022)
First Non-Festival Release: May 20, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Runtime: 100 Minutes
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
In hopes of healing after a traumatic event, Harper (Jessie Buckley) retreats to a beautiful rental home in the countryside of England. As she settles in and explores her surroundings, she finds herself on edge with the belief that someone is watching her. Her suspicions are confirmed when she catches a man trespassing on the property. Things escalate when other townsmen begin following, confronting, and attacking her.
Heady metaphorical horror Men is a bold take on the perils of unchecked unhealthy masculinity.
Harper’s journey throughout the film centers on overcoming the feelings she has towards her husband’s death. The audience is clued in early on that this relationship was not ideal and that Harper had good reason to end it, even before it gets worse in flashbacks. The fact that her healing process is stymied by the relentless attacks by the mysterious men makes it more challenging for her. She finally gets to confront the true feelings she is harboring. The anguish, disgust, and irritation over the intrusion on her life bubbles over to where she can finally feel in control of herself.
Seeped in symbolism, Men explores male harm and trauma. Harper’s experience with men has been dismal. Her former husband James (Paapa Essiedu) was controlling and manipulative. The first time he gets physically aggressive with Harper is the day he died but that isn’t the first instance of his abuse. It’s clear that she wanted a divorce to get away from him before things got worse.
What makes Paapa Essiedu’s character and performance so real, is that he deflects blame and repositions the problem onto Harper. His actions are her fault. His feeling of failure is her fault. His decision to end his life is her fault. In his mind, at least, these are true. The audience, and thankfully Harper, know this is not true. Men takes this concept further by forcing Harper to truly confront her conflicted feelings about James through her battle with the various manifestations of Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear).
By the time the third act arrives, it is clear that what is happening to Harper is something supernatural. Each of these manifestations of the same man are purposefully egging her on, almost like they are provoking her. When Harper takes action, she sets off a chain event that allows her to truly understand what is happening. After escaping a car crash, she witnesses the violent birth and re-birth of several men spouting forth from one another. The cycle of toxic masculinity is quite literally on display as the disdain and hopelessness of each husk of a man disappears as soon as the next erupts from their bodies. In the end, James comes forth and sits on the couch next to her.
While this metaphor might be on the nose, there are many little moments that make Men such an interesting film. True-to-life horrors are casually interspersed to put Harper on edge. A teenage boy calls her a “stupid bitch”, a vicar blames her lack of forgiveness for her husband’s death, and a police officer releases her stalker after a short time in jail. These all seem mundane when compared to a sequence of cisgender men giving birth to one another, but that’s the real horror of Men. These ideas, attitudes, and failures are commonplace. Furthermore, the brunt of the violence is inflicted on men by men, and whatever Harper does is in self-defense. The idea that men are the source of their own problems and choose to harm women on top of that is the crux of the social commentary behind Men. That is without even discussing the religious connotations, the meaning behind each stage of life portrayed, and many other rich bits of subtext offered.
One of the more inspired parts of Men, which is saying something for an already immersive film, is its score. A pivotal moment in the first act shows Harper singing in an empty tunnel, creating music out of the echoes of her own voice. This goes on as she gets more creative and dynamic in her creations. It is in this sequence, that Harper has the first interaction with the man that torments her. Noticeably, this motif reoccurs throughout the remainder of the film both while she rests and while she is pursued. The beauty of her talent is then juxtaposed against her torture.
Beautifully filmed, there is no shortage of engaging and visually appealing shots in Men. The forest, old village, and even the home Harper stays in feel authentic and lived in. Scenery adds to the terror to double down on the idea that Harper is isolated and surrounded. The story smoothly blends well thanks to sharp editing and a solid understanding of carefully integrating flashback sequences into a story. Everything feels integral to the story, especially as time progresses. Some gnarly scenes of body horror creep out of nowhere to satisfy more visceral lovers of horror too. It walks a tightrope between the outlandish and the uncomfortable, which perfectly captures the dark and cerebral tone of the film.
Both Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear give fantastic performances here. Buckley knows how to sell small moments on film and make them appear larger than life. From her physicality to her voice, she portrays power, doubt, courage, and exasperation. By virtue of playing a menagerie of different characters, Kinnear does so in a way that still separates them perfectly from one another. Each iteration of the titular men feels unique, with their own purpose and inspiration of fear for Harper.
While it isn’t a perfect film, Men gives the audience plenty to think about when the credits roll. Buckley gives a great performance, as does Kinnear. Inevitably, it will challenge audiences and infuriate those that feel no obligation to self-reflect on their own behaviors and actions. It doesn’t quite deliver in terms of horror until its bonkers third act, but it still holds it own enough to warrant a hardy recommendation. Men may not scare you, but the implications behind its deeper meaning should give people much to think about.
Overall Score? 7/10