A horror film that’s curious as it is creepy.
I’ve seen the trailers and poster for Alex Garland’s third movie “Men,” which is labeled a horror film, and I didn’t know what to make of it. The title could mean that the main heroine, memorably played by Jessie Buckley, could be dealing with some bad men. The first poster has her standing outside a dark tunnel with a green forest and the tagline “What Haunts You Will Find You,” and the second features Roy Kinnear looking all creepy with the title covering his eyes.
This could be anything. It might be something more sinister. And I’m still pondering at what Jordan Peele is trying to convey in his upcoming movie “Nope.” I can’t wait to find out.
For now, “Men” is an absorbing and disturbing film, which starts off with an emotional turning point, middles with something strange, and ends in an otherworldly manner. It’s the kind of horror film that audiences may debate about-whether they liked it or not. Thinking back to 2017, when “mother!” was polarized by critics and audiences, an old man walked up to me and said: “utter garbage.” “Men” is miles ahead of that film, and even last week’s horror bomb “Firestarter.” This is an interesting film on so many different levels.
Buckley plays Harper Marlowe, the widowed heroine of “Men,” who is struggling to overcome the death of her abusive husband James (Paapa Essiedu). It’s conceivable that he killed himself after she decided to divorce him, and booted them out of their home. To clear her mind, she heads over to the English countryside on holiday.
Here’s when the stranger-than-fiction story begins. Kinnear plays multiple roles, including the groundskeeper Geoffrey, the priest, his son, the local bartender, and some kind of nudist, who pierces himself with twigs and leaves. All of them are creepy, and all of them begin to stalk Harper. At least that’s how she’s seeing them or how we, the audience, are seeing them.
The house she stays at has an apple tree, and what wouldn’t be a horror film without someone joking about apples being forbidden fruit. She eats the fruit, while Geoffrey kids her about that. The Adam & Eve story of the apples being part of the forbidden was set about its tree holding the knowledge of good and evil.
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”— Genesis 2:16–17
And in other cases, it could represent indulgences or pleasures that are considered illegal or immoral.
I can promise you the girl is about to deal with a number of immoral things as she experiences the different men, and their bizarre and twisty aspects. Some of them could be wolves in sheep’s clothing, others are just creepy, and maybe one of them is a child. Or who knows what exactly these men are.
The performances from Buckley, Kinnear, and Essiedu are all memorable in the ways that Garland intends to direct them. Buckley tries to grasp her character’s reality, Kinnear morphs in these different roles, and Essiedu is full of fury and convictions as the husband.
Garland’s last two directing jobs were “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation,” and “Men” doesn’t top those films, because of some questions I’m not sure are answered, but it does creep you out in intriguing ways. It’s also patient when it transcends from one reality to the next. What Harper is about to experience is not supposed to be part of reality. I’m glad the police were able to arrest the naked stalker without the “you’re just seeing things” cliche.