Jessie Buckley Rory Kinnear Paapa Essiedu Zac Rothera-Oxley Gayle Rankin
Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation) is a master at mixing up reality and fantasy/symbolism, making viewers think one way, then another about the characters and the story. One must do a bit of work to make sense of his films; otherwise, they would seem to be meaningless.
Choral music (Geoff Burrow, Ben Salisbury) and lush cinematography (Rob Hardy) pave the way for a delightful time in a beautiful old house for Harper (Buckley) to get away and heal from the recent messy break-up with her husband James (Essiedu).
When she arrives at the house and meets the landlord Geoffrey (Kinnear), she is taken aback with his wry humor and teasing, but he is gracious after playfully chiding her for picking an apple in the yard and eating it. He points out that television and wi-fi are a bit iffy, gives her the one house key (“you don’t really need to lock the door”), and he’s off.
The horror only really begins when she ventures out for a walk in the forest, delights herself playing with echoes at the entrance to a cave, but then realizes she is lost, with it starting to rain. And was that a naked man standing in front of an abandoned building?
There is plenty of horror after that, with the naked man, a smart-alecky kid, the vicar, an unsympathetic policeman, and so on. Intentionally, Garland has made it appear that Harper must be psychotic, and much of what seems to happen is only in her mind. (How many times have women been told that?)
But stepping back and with some thought, we realize that Garland is making a statement about the relationships between men and women and the way in which women are generally regarded. (Hasn’t Eve always been held responsible for all the ills that followed from her eating the forbidden fruit?) All the male characters in Men (and I think Garland’s use of the plural is meaningful, in that it guides us toward the general statement he is making) end up scorning Harper and even dying (“because of her”).
More of the symbolism could be discussed (e.g., references to death, birth, the barely audible “Papa says so” repeated several times, the appearance of blood on hands and on the naked man), but the viewer should go to see the picture with an open mind and give free rein to one’s personal associations to the images and references.
Men is not likely to appeal to the general audience, but for those who like to see and appreciate films considered to be “artistic”, it’s well worth seeing. My fault of the film is that its promised intrigue in the beginning falls into something that is so heavy-handed it becomes almost meaningless in the end. A little bit of horror is good, but too much makes me just tired.
A well-crafted drama with elements of horror that make it intriguing, but maybe there is too much of a good thing.
Grade: B By Donna R. Copeland