Movie Review: Men by Alex Garland

In the spirit of putting up a wordy movie review as promised prior, I have opted to review one of the films of all time, surely, which I definitely have a lot of thoughts about even if none of them are good.

Written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina and Annihilation), the film stars Jessie Buckley (I’m Thinking of Ending Things) and Rory Kinnear (Our Flag Means Death, Penny Dreadful). As a huge fan of Kinnear’s work, especially his turn as Frankenstein’s creation in the otherwise beautiful trainwreck that was Penny Dreadful, I was incredibly excited. The concept sounded intriguing too and steeped in folk horror: a young widow travels to the countryside to escape her old home after her husband’s death; there she becomes haunted and tormented by the strange men of the town.

As a fan of Jessie Buckey, Rory Kinnear, and the prior works of Alex Garland, I had high hopes for this movie. As reviews came out, those hopes dimmed somewhat, but hey, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve watched a movie that’s been panned and still enjoyed it. There are, in my estimation, a lot more “enjoyable movies” than there are “good films” out there anyway!

Men was neither enjoyable nor good. Alex Garland clearly wants to make works with feminist messages, yet this one is so overly hamfisted in showing the microaggressions faced by (white, cishet) women, that it made me physically cringe. Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear are trying, but they clearly weren’t given a lot to go on–Kinnear is a powerhouse of an actor when given even mediocre material, and Buckley knocks it out of the park in other roles. In this though, Buckley is floundering with not much of a character to go on, and Kinnear is given archtypes to play rather than any sort of character himself.

That said, I could still give it a reluctantly generous three stars were it not for the ending. Before this film, I was one to scoff at “ending explained” videos for certain horror films, when the ending seemed clear as day to me. This was arrogance, because now after this film, I can genuinely say I have no damn clue what that ending was supposed to be.

SPOILERS AHEAD:

While I guessed from some set pieces that the Green Man figure of paganism would be a major plot point, possibly fueled by Kinnear’s various characters, there was no explanation of build up to this reveal in the slightest. The association of the Green Man with masculine energy exists of course, but isn’t even vaguely common parlance even for your fannish horror community. Even as someone who knows of it, it took me consideration long after the film to make it, and I’m still not sure I’m right. The blending of the binarist masculine and feminine in the body horror transformation is horrific and interestingly down via the effects team even as it is uncomfortable. But the ending just…makes no goddamn sense. I’m fairly sure this all connects back to her husband’s death? Dunno how but that seems to be the implication, which…is unfortunate given that the husband died in an abusive tear against Jessie Buckley’s character. Is her torture due to guilt? I sure hope not, but again, I have no clue what to make of this ending!

The effects were great in parts, which is why this is getting a reluctant 1.5 stars, when really it deserves maybe a half one. But I’m a sucker for good special effects, so there’s that.

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