So, quick crash course in Alex Garland. He made Ex Machina, Annihilation, and the mini-series Devs (which is essentially an extended movie). He’s a rare modern auteur who also happens to have big-studio financing from A24, and his movies are consistently mind-blowing, both in their artistry and their actual storylines.
Men is the biggest departure from his established style, but only because his three prior works were all decidedly sci-fi, whereas Men is psychological horror. Yet it still boasts his signature existential style and iconic imagery, and it certainly highlights his versatility as an artist without merely rehashing his prior films (he does include dandelions, which I believe was also a motif in Devs, but that’s the only real connection to his ‘cinematic universe’).
The premise of Men is a typical horror setup: a woman is haunted while on a weekend getaway in the British countryside. Part of the horror is that all the men in the town are identical: our female protagonist doesn’t seem to realize that they’re all played by Rory Kinnear (of James Bond fame). Hence, all men are equally bad and indistinguishable. And the real horror is women being gas-lit by men. #Feminism.
But that’s an incredibly superficial, made-for-Democrats read of the film. In reality, the film is less of a social manifesto, more a collection of images, sounds, and metaphors that are open to multiple interpretations. The horror is so existential and dense and apparently ancient, it feels sacreligious to say that it’s just about men abusing women. It is about misogyny, sure, but it’s also about grief, guilt, power, repetition and cycles, nature, religion, trauma… The list goes on.
And true to Garland’s signature style, much of the film consists of slow, lingering shots that take their time establishing the world and immersing you in it. That’s probably the one downside, as in, the thing that mainstream audiences would complain about: “it’s too slow, this isn’t horror, this is stupid, it’s just a woman singing in a tunnel. I’d rather watch IP and Dale, the Franchise Rangers.”
Your loss, bro. The movie escalates exponentially as it goes on. Eventually, Garland just dispenses with traditional dialogue and scenes, and overwhelms you with some of the most deliriously audacious body horror I’ve seen since Society. And in Lynchian fashion, there’s generally no rhyme or reason to what the hell is happening. It just happens. You either accept it or don’t. Even his ‘explanation’ for the multiple Rory Kinnears is so jaw-droppingly bizarre that you’ll end up being more confused than before.
The finale is a mash-up of ‘Society’ and ‘Annihilation’ and it’s insane.
Overall, the film is not for the faint of stomach, and it may seem eye-rolling with what appears to be an overtly pandering message about feminism and gas-lighting. Trust me, it’s so much more, and it firmly establishes Garland as one of the greatest film-makers of the 21st century.