After tragedy throws her life into upheaval, Harper Marlow (Jessie Buckley) books a beautiful country home for a few weeks to recuperate. While there, she encounters several men (Rory Kinnear) and is soon drawn into a vortex of mayhem and horror...
Much of Alex Garland's directorial work and some of his writing work has been about how men ultimately end up destroying or perverting what they've created. 'Ex Machina', in particular, was a pointed examination of how advanced robotics in the hands of men would of course lead to them trying to make sex robots in the first instance. The miniseries 'Devs' took in artificial intelligence, but was really about how men, when given total control over space-time, will ultimately create horrors beyond comprehension. 'Annihilation' examined the idea of self-destruction as it spins out from grief and depression, though its central cast was primarily made up of women.
'Men' has none of the subtleties that exist in any of Garland's other works, which makes sense when you consider that Rory Kinnear plays every man in this bar one. He even plays a small child, with his face superimposed over it. The otherworldliness of it all doesn't really lend itself to timidity or delicacy - but given the title of the movie, how could you expect anything else? Even the end credits are in Impact, the most hetero-masculine font there is outside of Stencil. Yet for all that it lacks for grace, 'Men' isn't short of depth or somehow imprecise. Quite the opposite. It makes its point, stays on point, and hammers it repeatedly.
While Jessie Buckley deserves credit for being able to convincingly play the terror up in the face of something so ridiculous, it's Rory Kinnear who steals the show here. The range of performances he gives, encompassing all manners of menace, makes it one of the most daring and original in horror for quite some time. What's more, it doesn't fall into easy traps. Playing every face of misogyny there is, Kinnear subsumes himself in the multiple roles even though it's him throughout. The working relationship that Buckley and Kinnear have is what lifts 'Men' through its fallow moments, but it's to Alex Garland's credit that atmosphere bleeds in at every opportunity.
Garland has a natural flair for creating moments of wonder and revulsion in equal measure, much like he did in 'Annihilation'. Here in 'Men', it's mostly confined to the final act which takes a page out of body horror classics like 'Videodrome' and 'The Thing', luxuriating in the weirdness of it all without care for runtime or pacing. Leading up to this, however, 'Men' does tend to drag its way to the point, despite the fact it's not at all trying to hide it. 'Men' doesn't lack visual flair and Garland is able to make even the most mundane of scenarios into foreboding episodes, as all the best folk horrors do. What's more, 'Men' finds black humour in them too. Even with all this, there's a niggling sense that 'Men' never quite lands every beat as it should and misses out on some aspects that are left behind by how it bludgeons its main themes to death.
'Men' isn't Alex Garland's crowning work, even if it's one that he's worked on for several years. It has thematic clarity, excellent performances by its two leads, and a director in full command of tone and story, but somehow leaves something uneven in its wake.