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MOVIES: Men - Review

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Alex Garland has been a mainstay in science fiction for the past decade now if not longer. Ex Machina and Annihilation he’s had direct involvement in; but has also worked on films like Dredd, The Beach and more; as well as the excellent miniseries Devs that aired on FX, pairing with Jessie Buckley and a folk horror premise akin to Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth felt like a fascinating set-up, coupled with an unsettling trailer that saw Buckley’s character Harper have an echo respond to her in the woods, really created an uneasy mindset going in. The origins of Men are evident and easy to see - from recent movies like Hot Fuzz to the classics of Straw Dogs and The Wicker Man, there's a heavy shadow over this film, and the score creates a sense of mythic quality that matches in with the folk horror of the set-up.

Garland’s commanding of the atmosphere is excellent – the mood that he creates of a small British village with just a few key locations, the Church, the Pub, the abandoned railway tunnels and the old Mansion that Harper now calls her home is fascinatingly well done. As is the lighting, the tinge of red in the final act creates a strong colour pallette where the pub feels like your own local whilst London almost feels like a bland corporate hellscape in comparison. If for the lack of anything else positive to say, Men would work as an excellent mood piece – creating an uneasy edge that will never stay far from your memory – Buckley’s reactions are distinctively uncomfortable and create a sense of palpable unease.

But beyond that; Men feels like there is nothing to say. It has a statement to make; sure, with plenty of symbolism and folk horror, the plot is hard to talk about without spoiling, but Harper’s move to a small village after the death of her husband is instantly amiss when she’s stalked by a strange, naked man in the woods, subsequently arrested and then let go without charge despite breaking onto her property, never fully evolves into anything interesting. Part of that is because we never get to learn much about Harper as a character, the film never peels back the layers of what makes her tick and the whole thing just feels like a half-assed attempt at dealing with grief and trauma in a way that doesn’t really understand the meaning of the word subtlety, ending coming across as a man's view of misogny, and at least Edgar Wright was smart enough to bring Krysty Wilson-Cairns onboard for Last Night in Soho, here - Men is purely Garland's vision, and with that comes a double-edged sword.

Rory Kinnear plays multiple characters in this film – much of the population of the village that Harper moves to – and the result is an unsettling sense of unease; but the best thing about the mystery unfolding really is just its palpable sense of unease – because really; everything else is straight-up forgettable. The finale completely lost me, pushing too hard and trying too much to make me fully invested, with the end result almost being something not unlike that of an unintentional parody of horror films that have been distributed by A24. I never like using the word "pretentious" to describe a film as I feel like no film can be inherently pretentious, and it feels like a lazy criticism - but when Men feels as half-baked as it did whilst opting for a false sense of self-importance and self-indulgence, that's the only reaction that it will leave on some viewers. It's also not really part of "elevated horror"; because "elevated horror" doesn't really exist. These comparisons would be avoidable if Men opted to look beyond its symbolism and metaphors, but it doesn't even try.

It's a massive disappointment on almost every level given the high expectations that I had going in – and I was really hoping for another good Alex Garland project. Safe to say – this miss being his first still demonstrates a good track record, but it’s something to be wary of in the future, even if more wild swings like this are encouraged.

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