Following in similar footsteps as his previous feature Annihilation, Alex Garland’s Men offers an unsettling premise with visuals to match that are eventually hampered by an unnecessarily cryptic and complicated narrative.
Harper (Jessie Buckley of Wild Rose and I’m Thinking of Ending Things) takes a much-needed escape to the countryside to decompress after a traumatic event involving her husband James (Paapa Essiedu). She finds a brief residence at a quaint cabin where the eccentric landlord Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) offers the utmost hospitality. While on her own and exploring the area, she notices she’s being stalked by a naked wanderer. This startling event snowballs into a series of peculiar instances where Harper realizes how helpless she is in the face of potential danger and suffocating situations.
The naked wanderer as well as other characters in a nearby hamlet are also played by Kinnear,. Harper doesn’t make this connection nor do other characters acknowledge this. But, it’s also not made clear that this bleed-over actually exists and, instead, is spun on the audience as if we’re supposed to believe that we’re hallucinating. It’s a vague visual trick that’s appropriately off-putting at first to compliment the movie’s tone, but this interpretation becomes increasingly muddled when the movie overreaches in its ambition. The performances are decent on a surface-level, but the character outlines are simple and don’t mesh well with Garland’s puzzle.
Despite the title, Men isn’t thematically grounded in gender, but rather something more personal. Granted, I had a hard time figuring out Garland’s Men until I finally just accepted it as a straightforward thriller that offered sufficient creeps and body horror, though none of it was particularly scary. My wife, who liked Men a lot more than I did, had an intriguing theory on Garland’s movie and Harper’s personal salvation. Her theory takes Men to another level. If Garland’s intentions match my wife’s results, then there’s a jarring gap in miscommunication.
It’s entirely possible that my effort as a viewer was lacking, but Garland’s storytelling is still too guarded. He’s a visionary, and I hope one day he can let us all in.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie