Directed by: Alex Garland
Premise: A recently widowed woman (Jessie Buckley) retreats to a rural cottage. She continually encounters men who range from awkward to outright threatening.
What Works: At its core, Men is a slasher film. The slasher subgenre, which was at its height in the 1980s, was about women facing violence perpetuated mostly by male killers often motivated by psychosexual obsessions. Men shares that concept but brings it into a larger social and even mythological context. This is a horror picture about a woman’s experience in a man’s world and it combines slasher tropes with elements of paranoia thrillers like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The filmmakers create a vivid atmosphere of dread by skillful use of imagery and sound. Men is effectively shot. The lighting is highly stylized with high contrast images and effective use of shadows. The threats often start in the background and gradually follow our protagonist into the foreground and the action is blocked and staged in ways that draw out the tension. Men features some extraordinary imagery. The film delves into the surreal and the finale has some unique body horror that is worthy of David Cronenberg. Men also has an effective soundtrack. The music by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury adds to the atmosphere and the score blends with the sound effects to create a foreboding aural experience. Also notable is the central performance by Jessie Buckley. She’s required to be in a state of fear for much of the movie and Buckley is empathetically vulnerable while also displaying complexity and intelligence.
What Doesn’t: Men comes from filmmaker Alex Garland who had previously directed Ex Machina and Annihilation. Garland’s style is slow and meticulous and in Men he works with images that are rooted in religion and mythology and are often surrealistic and not intended to be taken literally. Like 2017’s Mother! this film does not follow the realist style of mainstream Hollywood moviemaking and it is likely to test the patience of some viewers. That said, the ideas of Men are only lightly disguised and not very deep. The film’s conception of males and masculinity is deliberately narrow. Ultimately, the movie is about this particular woman’s trauma and it visualizes the way her experiences color her view of men. But the picture’s implications about men at large are not much deeper than the average slasher movie.
Bottom Line: Men is an impressively crafted horror picture. It’s a little too arty for its own good; the filmmakers make a show of their technical acumen while revisiting themes familiar to this genre. But Men does create a frightening atmosphere and successfully combines slasher movie thrills with an ambitious visual style.
Episode: #903 (May 29, 2022)