A young woman goes on a solo vacation to the English countryside following the death of her ex-husband.
Alex Garland is one of the most interesting filmmakers operating today and he has produced some of my favourite films and TV series of recent years. After starting out writing novels and screenplays (often for Danny Boyle), he moved into directing with the excellent ‘Ex Machina’, ‘Annihilation’ and the underrated TV miniseries ‘Devs’. His latest movie ‘Men’ is a haunting folk horror set in the English countryside, with Jessie Buckley playing the lead character who finds herself tormented by the men of the nearby village – curiously all portrayed by Rory Kinnear.
Buckley plays Harper, a woman who has gone on a holiday by herself to clear her head and spend some time alone after her husband (Paapa Essiedu) committed suicide. His suicide occurred after she told him she was leaving him, leaving Harper with a lot of guilt that makes it (even more) difficult to overcome such an overwhelming tragedy. She has rented a big country house in a remote village from a country bumpkin called Geoffrey (the first of Kinnear’s characters), who seems like a pleasant enough fellow and his tics and phrasings were very enjoyable – this is a funnier film at times than you would perhaps expect. From this point onwards things start to go a little awry, beginning with a walk in the woods that ends in a chase when Harper spots a man following her at the end of an abandoned railway tunnel. This haunting sequence is terrific, dripping with menace and tension and a superb echoey score, and is an example of the aspects of ‘Men’ that work really well. The movie progresses with a simmering intensity until we get to a final act that is quite frankly a little too much and didn’t entirely work for me. Whilst I’m sure there is some deeper meaning in the way the movie concludes, it had lost me somewhat by this stage, which is a shame as the movie builds up very well until this point.
Jessie Buckley is excellent as our protagonist but it’s Rory Kinnear who really excels in multiple roles, representing all of the ‘men’ in the village. It’s a part I’m sure most actors would relish and Kinnear certainly does, yet he manages to make each ‘character’ distinct and interesting, whilst sharing some similarities. He’s an actor that has appeared in a lot of things on the big and small screen and I can’t recall him ever being nearly as good as this. The primary theme ‘Men’ is exploring is the nature of masculinity and its approach to this is almost always compelling, albeit the conclusion is a little too absurd for any serious points to hit home. Visually the movie is impressive with a good use of gore and special effects, particularly for some of the body horror sequences, and if you’re a little squeamish you’ll spend a good amount of time with your hands over your eyes. ‘Men’ lacks the finale to rival Garland’s finest works but for 2/3rd’s of its runtime it’s a gripping horror movie anchored by two excellent leading performances and a carefully built up menacing atmosphere.
Directed By: Alex Garland
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Gayle Rankin and Paapa Essiedu