Alex Garland, he of Devs, Annihilation and Ex Machina fame, is not afraid of pushing boundaries when it comes to the art of film and in Men, his latest movie, things are no different.
Is it an exploration of grief? Is it a pointed look and interpretation of men’s behaviour? Is it simply Garland finally getting the symbols Green Man and Sheela na gig, something he’s been obsessed with apparently, into a movie?
According to the man himself it’s the former as Harper, Jessie Buckley (“Wild Rose”, “The Courier”), seeks solace in a large country house after witnessing her husband James, Paapa Essiedu (“The Lazarus Project (TV)”, “I May Destroy You (TV)”), fall to his death from a balcony.
She had just announced that she wants a divorce, something James does not take very well and even threatens to commit suicide. Does he? Or does something else happen? What we see is James falling, slow motion style, whilst Harper looks on in horror.
When she arrives at the house the very posh and country Geoffrey, Rory Kinnear (“No Time to Die”, “iBoy”), shows her around prior to leaving her to it. Harper decides to take a walk through the nearby forest but is disturbed when she spots a naked man who she appears to follow her out of the woods.
When this man arrives at the house she’s staying in, she has him arrested. But later in the pub the policeman, also Kinnear, says they had to let him go, nothing to charge him with.
As Harper’s worries intensify, we see more and more of the night of the argument with James, whilst the men in the village she’s staying in, all played by Kinnear, take on increasingly bizarre behaviour, the local priest asking why she pushed James to kill himself.
Harper becomes more anxious and the things she sees become more grotesque, more horror-tinged. What’s real? What’s in her mind? What does it all mean?
Men is a slow burn of a movie, don’t expect non-stop action or thrills. There’s none of that, Garland favouring long, lingering shots of the glorious English countryside. Usually, this is exactly the sort of thing I hate, however here, it fits with the movie.
For when Harper first arrives at her country retreat, she has high expectations that it’s going to be able to heal her, as such we see vibrant greens, beautiful bluebells and a moment of joy as Harper finds a tunnel in which she uses to echo a song to herself.
Throughout this though, you’re aware that there’s a darkness. It creeps in at the edges, even on those lingering shots of trees and, as the movie progresses, Garland takes joy in playing with light and shadows across various forms.
As for the performances, they are second to none. Buckley is tremendous as Harper. Her reaction to the events around her keep you watching, she flips between anger, horror and a sort of resignation to it all with aplomb.
Then we get to Kinnear, for all intents and purposes the only other person in the movie. He plays the posh welcoming man, the priest, the policeman, two men in the bar and the bartender. The only person he doesn’t physically play is the youth, though his face is digitally put on.
It’s another tour-de-force performance from Kinnear. Some of the roles are creepy as hell, others quickly spiral downwards and he takes them all in his stride.
Men isn’t a movie for everyone, I suspect you will either love it or hate it. I loved the journey Garland took us on, I loved the performances but, equally, I could see how you could simply be bored by the whole lot and think it overindulgent, that’s the glory of the arts.