Quick question before we start: Does the agent for Rory Kinnear, the guy who porked a pig in “Black Mirror,” secretly hate him? “Men” further ensures that the only human touch the actor will ever have is “purely accidental.” Honestly, after watching writer/director Alex Garland’s folk-horror treatise on the repetitive monstrosities inflicted by dudes, maybe he’s not the only one of us who should go untouched. Is it bad that this opening paragraph for the movie about nightmarish sexism took until the very end to get to Jessie Buckley, the actress at the center of it? Because it feels bad…
Speaking of feeling bad: Buckley plays Harper, whose husband died by suicide (or maybe an accident) after she informed him she wanted a divorce. Now super traumatized, she rents out an estate in a quaint English village months later in an attempt to heal. The opposite happens! She gets harassed by a nekkid stalker (Kinnear), an oafish landlord (Kinnear), a demonic child (Kinnear), a wicked vicar (Kinnear), a callous policeman (Kinnear), and a few other randos (all Kinnear). You may have some questions. So does Harper.
Garland doesn’t offer many head-on answers, even if the gist is grossly gotten. Most of us stateside are likely unfamiliar with the Green Man and Sheela-Na-Gig, outside of the latter’s bangin’ PJ Harvey song. Would knowing the folklore that inspired “Men” make it even better? You bet your sweet paganism. But even without it, the film is an exceptional bit of grotesquery, a sledgehammer “metaphor” that exposes the cyclical, redundant brutality against women for the true terror it is. For most of its running time, “Men” is unspeakably tense. Then comes the H.R. Giger-meets-David Cronenberg climax, which is just unspeakably gross.
Maddeningly apropos of the message, while Kinnear does all the showy stuff, Buckley is the only reason any of it works. Her grounded, nuanced character may be a writhing mass of PTSD, but the actress refuses to reduce her to “just” a victim. She’s also not some slasher-flick “final girl” whose survival forgives the escapist torture inflicted on her for two hours. She is on her way to a personal epiphany, surrounded on all sides by Kinnear’s wieners.
Although abstraction is absolutely acceptable, some plot incoherence by Garland does distract from the take-home lessons. Nobody not named Nolan wants elaborate exposition that lays out all the rules of the supernatural gobbledygook; however, unpacking the theme gets pretty complicated due to some murky logistics. The big picture point remains pretty clear: The mistreatment of women is timeless and repetitive to the point where it would be almost boring if it wasn’t so evil. But another, smarter squeeze of that social lemon could have yielded juice sweeter than Eden’s apple.
All that being said, “Men” is upsetting in most of the best possible ways. Short of profound maybe, but another splendid example of how plumbing the depths of past mythology can yield meaningful modern-day messages. Now someone do a deep fake edit where all the faces are Elon Musk’s.
Grade = A-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
MontiLee Stormer at Movie Reelist says “It is going to have something and nothing for everyone. It is baffling and intriguing and grotesque and beautiful and it deserves a second and third watch.”
Karen Gordon at Original Cin says “I’m trying to avoid using the term ‘toxic masculinity’ here, partly because the movie is much more interesting and fun, and, well Freudian/Jungian. But for sure, ‘Men’ is in that ballpark.
Angelica Jade Bastién at Vulture says “It should be more than grotesqueries — it should have a message, often bluntly communicated. The message behind ‘Men’ amounts to ‘Damn, misogyny is crazy, right?’ ”