Men Creates an Aura of Muddled Commentary

by Liam Trump ‘24

Truly committing to the horror genre for the first time, Alex Garland’s Men is a metaphorical dip into a woman’s grief after suffering a terrible tragedy. Garland’s style is very evident throughout the entire film, with his dynamic lighting and camera work as well as his high concepts taking center stage. The previous movies he’s directed, Ex Machina and Annihilation, focused on themes of gender roles, so with a title like Men, it’s pretty clear the genre shift won’t inhibit the ideas he’s trying to present.

The story follows Harper (Jessie Buckley) as she travels to the English countryside after witnessing the suicide of her husband James (Paapa Essiedu). Upon her arrival, she’s greeted by Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) who’s the owner of the house she’s staying at. This seems to be a nice break for her, but she soon realizes there’s something more sinister going on. As her stay prolongs, Harper bears witness to the true horror of what men can become.

Men, more than anything, is psychological horror and as such has numerous ideas bidding for their own time in the spotlight. From victim blaming to sexual assault, the film tries to have commentary on a plethora of issues. As a result, the story is cluttered with ideas that feel unfinished and uncreatively integrated into the story. The script is awkward and uneven, with concepts being brought up and then completely dropped by the end. It’s pretentious to a degree Garland never came close to before.

What encapsulates the film’s shortcomings the most would have to be the last half hour or so which is nothing but tacky gore and trite symbolism. The sequence is so bland and repetitive that it ends up serving nothing of value, even on a visual level. Earlier in the film, there were at least interesting lighting choices and not such a high reliance on CGI. The color palette and makeup had led to an eerie atmosphere and there was subtlety to be found in the imagery. This all gets thrown away for an ending that merely serves as a cheap vessel to shock its audience.

But what does stay consistent and is ultimately the one true strength of the film is the cast’s performances. There are only six actors, but each of them has such a key understanding of the character they’re playing that it tends to distract from the poor writing. While some of the more tropey horror sequences leave a lot to be desired, Zak Rothera-Oxley and Kinnear both deliver some truly unnerving performances.

It’s a true shame that Garland’s latest directorial outing is as sloppy as it is because there are ideas presented, that if given room to breathe, could carry the entire film. His projects always teetered the line of becoming self-indulgent dribble, but they had interesting stories to be told. An argument can be made about the film having a much deeper meaning to it, but for a movie to be worthwhile, it shouldn’t have to be overanalyzed to find its quality.