31 Days of Hallowe’en 2022, Day 6: Men [2022]

I had several positive biases already in place for this one: A24, who continue to both reliably impress with gems, and surprise me with movies I honestly sometimes think I’ll end up hating (like the excellent Bodies Bodies Bodies); writer/director Alex Garland, who I think is a fantastically vivid, thought-provoking, non-showy storyteller; the severely underrated Rory Kinnear (loved him since Penny Dreadful); and Jessie Buckley, who has such a compellingly watchable screen presence.

In Men, Jessie plays Harper, who, after the death of her husband James (Paapa Essiedu), retreats from London to a countryside estate. After meeting the owner Geoffrey (Kinnear), a cumbrously nice but awkwardly humoured old-fashioned, middle-aged man (you know exactly the type) and getting a tour of the house, she settles in. Things seem to be pleasantly banal until a string of increasingly odd encounters with male figures in and around the village. It’s safe to say I’m severely understating this.

I refuse to give any more spoilers. I wish the trailer hadn’t given away a certain something that the aforementioned males have in common; I think that would have made for a better early reveal. If you don’t know, great. Keep it that way. What I will say is that this is the strangest film I’ve seen since Taxidermia. Actually, maybe this one is weirder.

So much of the imagery is haunting in every possible use of that word, even the lower-key moments like spotting the stars in the sky overhead – a thing of myth if you’ve ever lived in London; the smog is so dense that you have to hike up to the hill of Greenwich Observatory just to see the night sky proper. But even the idyllic rural setting takes on a disquieting feel thanks to Rob Hardy’s cinematography and Jake Roberts’s editing: lush foliage appears unnaturally neon-green against the quintessentially grey-daubed sky; fruit-bearing trees are used a sinister punchline; and the only wildlife we see is dead or dying. From personal experience living in both London and a village, the latter isn’t always as quaint as the greener-pasture-chasers might want them to be.

Not that this feels like Garland’s point; there’s a lot of trauma on display – some of it moderately triggering for me – and the scares, such as tech glitches or slasher-stalker-like tension – are built around the genuine human drama to insidious and truly frightening effect. Watching this alone with my back to a dark hallway in a smaller version of this on-screen house was a little too eerie for me (though I guess I can think of it as 4D horror), and I suppose I can never fucking look at my also-similar security light the same way ever again.

Much of the buzz is around the film’s climax and I can only say, without spoilers, that I can see what Garland was going for, which is surprising as he doesn’t tend to use such heavy-handed symbolism, but maybe a trauma-based tale can offer catharsis in its simplistic beats to avoid exploiting such sensitive subject matter.

That said, I don’t think this film ultimately has very deep things to say about toxic masculinity, abuse, misogyny, guilt or trauma in general, and as such doesn’t feel like a true Garland film like Annihilation or Ex Machina, both of which had layers of discussion-worthy beats within its storytelling and technical feats. I wish this had been more, but perhaps that’s an intended meta-point, given the film’s title?

Score: šŸŽƒšŸŽƒšŸŽƒ

Leave a Reply...if you dare.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s