Sunday, June 19, 2022

Man trouble

Big old country house, local village full of local people, blunt religious symbolism, strange goings-on, suspenseful music: so far, so cliched.

But Alex Garland's film Men is not merely a Wicker Man/League Of Gentlemen folk-horror pastiche - it has a serious point to make. And that point is that men are, by and large, wrong 'uns. Not particularly novel and certainly not nuanced, but a point worth making all the same.

Fleeing horrifying personal trauma in the city, Harper (Jessie Buckley) is seeking solace in the sticks. All she wants is to be left in peace. And yet the locals - a mysterious naked man living out in the woods, a weird teenager in a mask, a seedy vicar, and more - are all intent on intruding on that peace, imposing themselves upon her, relentlessly and exhaustingly plaguing and assailing her with their gaze, their demands, their (mis)readings of her behaviour.

Men's fault is not so much that Harper never questions why all the men she meets have Rory Kinnear's face; after all, it's not the most fanciful thing about a film that moves into the realms of surrealist grotesquery towards the end.

It's more that, as Slant's Keith Watson puts it, she's "largely a cipher": "Harper doesn't really do much in Men beyond standing idly by as things are done to her." She's a stoic victim, but a victim nonetheless. "The film's pithy title turns out to be all too revealing: it may have a woman at its center, but Garland's latest is ultimately much more interested in men."

Probably better to forget the deeper resonances (regardless of Garland's intentions or vision), then, and instead assess it against other low(ish)-budget psychological horror films. Regardless of its flaws, Men is frequently visually arresting, and some scenes - especially those featuring the railway tunnel and the letterbox - are guaranteed to leave an indelible mark on your memory for days afterwards.

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