Another day, another film I was blind to. I didn’t know exactly what I’d be getting into with a film like Men, but knowing that the director of Ex Machina and Annihilation, two very curious films in their own right, I knew I was in for something that would get me thinking afterwards. I’ve had plenty of time to process the events of Men and I’m still left asking questions, both good and bad.
Men is a film that has a strong narrative core but relies on visual metaphors to really get its point across. Let’s talk narrative first though, even though Men is made to be a film discussed at a coffee shop or around a dinner table with questions flying in every direction, it’s good to see that Alex Garland heralds the knowledge of how a good character drama in the core of your film can benefit it massively. In Men, the core character drama is that of Harper (Jessie Buckley), a woman whose ex-boyfriend James (Paapa Essiedu) killed himself after she broke up with him, but she is haunted by the thought of whether she was responsible or a badly timed accident. With this at the heart of the story, you have this in the back of your mind when you have to link it with the more visually intensive moments in the final third of the film.
But this factor wouldn’t be in the back of your mind if it wasn’t for an amazing performance from Jessie Buckley. She really hammers home the grief in this character with a performance that is like watching a road to recovery that we’re all in the back seat of. Buckley is giving 110 per cent, and so is Rory Kinnear who plays all the men in Cotson, the Hertfordshire village where Harper is getting away from her haunted past. Whether Kinnear is playing the landlord Geoffrey, a vicar, a foul-mouthed teen or a naked stalker, each one of these characters are immediately unsettling from the moment we meet them.
Of course, the biggest question is, how does Harper not notice that every man is the same? Well, this is all to do with how much Men also relies on hitting you with metaphor after metaphor. For this element, we are looking at this film from the perspective of a grieving Harper, this is the film’s way of telling you how she looks at the world after the end of her relationship with James. We’re looking through her eyes, and in the context of her trauma, it makes psychological sense that the men in this village look the same.
But with the number of metaphors and some symbolism in this film, there are obviously some that don’t exactly stick the landing. With a lot to say about the male sex, Men also throws in a dash of religious and pagan symbolism into the story in the hopes of creating some biblical allegory. These symbols range from a baptismal font with a Sheela na gig carving, to a literal apple tree (gee, I wonder what that’s a reference to). You get the impression that the film is trying to say a million things all at once, the message this way is never going to be listened clearly by the audience so each one is equally distorted. Though I do think Men would be a lot clearer on a second viewing.
Something else that is a strange distraction is that the film can feel very abrupt in its pacing. The beginning and middle of the film feel like a very atmospheric folk horror, but in the closing acts, the film has a change of heart and swaps out a suspenseful atmosphere for very graphic imagery. It feels like the filmmakers pulled out all the technical stocks in the finale but filmed the other two acts on a tight budget. Let me also say before I forget to mention, wow does this film become graphic in no time at all. It went from 0 to 100 quickly in how much blood and gore it was willing to show and is enough to make anyone wince, goodness knows what’ll happen to the faint-hearted.
I’m not going to lie to you, Men is a tricky film to unravel, but at least it plants the seeds for an unsettling experience early on. Combine a great first impression with equally impressive performances from Buckley and Kinnear and you have the makings of a viewing experience with a great atmosphere. However, it’s the final third of the film that lets it down from being great. Unlike other abstract films, where discussing it afterwards changes the way you looked at it originally, discussing Men is only going to raise more questions than it answers with metaphorical imagery that never really gets it point across.
Final Result: 5/10 – Average
Have you seen Men? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: Jurassic World: Dominion