When you work as a film journalist, you are bound to come across some pretty disappointing films. While you are always going to get the odd bad film, I believe a film becomes really disappointing when you are expecting a lot from it. That was certainly the case for me with Men.
Not only was I looking forward to seeing a good horror, but the film’s director and screenwriter, Alex Garland, is like a God to me. His novel The Beach encouraged me to travel halfway across the world to discover the beach that he wrote about. I have loved every single film that he has either written or directed. With all of that in mind, as you would expect, I was going into Men with some pretty high hopes, and not long after, they soon all came crashing down.
The film itself centres around Harper (Jessie Buckley), a woman who is an emotional mess after witnessing her husband, James (Paapa Essiedu), whom she was in the middle of divorcing, kill himself in front of her.
Encouraged by her friend Riley (Gayle Rankin), Harper heads away to spend some time at a nice country manor where she is greeted by the over-friendly and kind of creepy owner, Rory Kinnear.
However, her country visit isn’t as peaceful as she thinks it will be, as soon she is finding herself coming face-to-face with a naked man whom she finds she has to call the police on. Other creepy characters including the clearly disturbed Samuel (Zak Rothera-Oxley). The one thing all these characters seem to have in common is that they terrify Harper and seemingly could do physical harm to her.
Men is going to be a film that will struggle to win over audiences. In the beginning the narrative shows a woman finding herself stuck in a village full of freaks, and it works. At that time, the film even gets its moral point across as well, every male character in Harper’s life is or has been an asshole. This comes strongly and works well, but the film then falls apart completely when Garland decides to push that point even further and takes the film into some weird and experimental forms.
It feels like Garland has done something here that has never happened in any of his films before. It seems like he so eager to get the point across that he forgets that you can go so far to the point that you can lose your audience completely.
The first three-quarters of the film are believable. You are right there with Harper and fully understand her pain and her fears. But when the subtext that has been bubbling away under the surface for most of the film suddenly explodes onto the screen in some scenes that can only be described as weird and macabre, suddenly that realism is lost. I wasn’t in Harper’s world anymore. With that realism gone, so was my connection with the film.
What saves this film are the acting performances, Jessie Buckley is exceptional as the damaged Harper and I know I have been saying this since Wild Rose, but she needs to be cast in more films. Likewise, Rory Kinnear was outstanding not only as the creepy owner of the manor, but also in the range of all other characters that he plays in Harper’s nightmare world. Without him, the film could have been a lot worse.
Men tries but trips itself up, becoming a film that I admittedly can’t wait to forget.