Arts movie review

‘Men’ will get inside your head

Maybe a solo vacation into the English countryside wasn’t the best idea

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Jessie Buckley as Harper in ‘Men.’
Courtesy of A24

Directed by Alex Garland
Screenplay by Alex Garland
Starring Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, and Paapa Essiedu
Rated R, Now Playing

Recently unmarried Harper (Jessie Buckley) travels to the country for an escape, only to find herself reliving the violence she ran away from. With dramatic and gory visuals, Garland tells a horror story through the eyes of a domestic violence victim.

Men brings you along on Harper’s much-needed vacation. The countryside seems innocent enough, with sprawling green fields, invitingly lush woods, and a charming secluded sixteenth century manor Harper rents from Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear). A three hour drive from London isn’t enough to bury the past, however — even in moments of reverie, Harper is haunted by the memories of her estranged husband (Paapa Essiedu). And when she leaves the comfort and security of the country house, she quickly finds that the unassuming small town is not so innocent after all.

Jessie Buckley handles her role with skill and compassion, creating a complicated yet charismatic main character. Likewise, Rory Kinnear’s multi-faceted performance glues the film together. Paired with the steady crescendo of disconcerting events, the acting cleverly plays off the plot to create a grotesque and insidious portrait of grief and abuse.

Like Garland’s previous films, Men is not one to be watched with an absent mind. The mystery and intrigue of the town as well as Harper’s past compel you to explore the landscape of the film. Themes of guilt, autonomy, and sexuality emerge, all overlapping with motifs of rebirth, religion, and nature. Garland intersperses images from European mythology with abandoned structures overrun by plants to build a world of growth and stagnancy, peace and violence, as well as trust and betrayal. The end result is a near-liminal space which reflects both Harper’s psyche as well as modern Western society.

Garland’s writing finds a good balance in the horror genre, with deft pacing and worming subtleties. There are no cheap tricks in Men; the scariest scenes don’t rely on jumpscares, although there is heavy use of gore. This is certainly not a film to watch on a full stomach. I found several moments too disgusting to pay full attention to, but even if you end up watching this movie through your fingers, it’s certainly worth a watch.

The most uncomfortable scenes were not just the violent ones, however. There are jarring moments peppered throughout the film, which directly confront the female experience and how society views women. What left me shaking when the theater lights came on wasn’t the scariness or the violence, but where Harper (and, by extension, I as a woman) fit into all of it.

Whether you watch Men because you’re a horror junkie, A24 fan, Alex Garland enthusiast or cinephile, I can guarantee you one thing: Men will haunt you long after the credits roll.