The most horrifying thing in A24’s Men are the Men.
The newest entry in Alex Garland’s filmography, ‘Men,’ plays out like an obscure episode of the popular Netflix show ‘Black Mirror.’ Garland is no stranger to toying with genres – his directorial debut, ‘Ex Machina,’ is a modern sci-fi classic. At the same time, his follow-up film, ‘Annihilation,’ blends sci-fi and horror. ‘Men’ ditches the sci-fi and leans into the dread, with plenty of fear and body horror to go around. Needless to say, it’s not for those who are easily upset at graphic images. It’s also not a film that spells everything out for the viewer, which could be frustrating for those looking to have a fun and relaxing time at the theater.
‘Men’ focuses on Harper, wonderfully acted by recent Academy Award-nominee Jessie Buckley, who travels by herself to the English countryside for a much-needed holiday after experiencing a tragedy. She rents her holiday home from Geoffrey, a seemingly kind, albeit awkward, gentleman played by Rory Kinnear. So naturally, Harper’s vacation does not stay a vacation for long.
Buckley is incredible in the movie, but that’s not too surprising if you’ve seen the rest of her work.
She’s no stranger to playing characters in precarious circumstances or nearing a breakdown, as we’ve seen in films like ‘The Lost Daughter’ and ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things.’ As great as Buckley is, it’s really saying something that Kinnear is the one who steals the show. Kinnear doesn’t just play Geoffrey, he plays all of the men inhabiting the small town, including the local cop, the priest, and more. The different characters he plays are various levels of chilling or alarming, adding to the overall harrowing vibe.
‘Men’ is not a film that holds your hand – it’s brimming with atmosphere and strives to make you uncomfortable as it slowly builds up to its final act. For example, an early, memorable scene finds Harper exploring nearby woods and coming across a lengthy tunnel. She enters and begins making noises that echo throughout. Then, as she looks toward the exit, she sees a male silhouette slowly rise on the opposite end of the tunnel. These subtle, haunting moments make the viewer feel as uncomfortable as Harper.
This is not the kind of movie that aims to make you jump. Instead, the scares are increasingly creepy until the finale, which is bonkers. After sitting through some longer films recently (‘The Northman’ and ‘Ambulance’ are both over two hours), ‘Men’ runs at a brisk 100 minutes, suitable for this kind of slow-burn horror. It feels like Garland was able to tell the story he wanted to tell, but he leaves a lot up for interpretation. Some of the themes are more obvious, but others will leave you wondering after the credits roll.
I give ‘Men’ 3.5 out of 5 stars. The atmosphere and performances are worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre. However, I could see the third act being divisive amongst horror fans.