Flix at :48: 'Men' is Alex Garland's spookiest film yet
English director/screenwriter Alex Garland has proven he can tell defiantly dark and engaging stories with the beautifully mysterious films Ex Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018). But his latest film, called Men, is definitely his spookiest and most symbolic.
After the traumatizing death of her husband, an emotionally haunted woman (Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter, 2021) drives to a remote village in the English countryside for a cottage vacation of solitude and renewal. But the men she meets on this vacation all look strangely similar, and all of them express a different form of sexism, progressively pushing the heroine from annoyance to paranoia to terror.
Men starts as a slow burn psychological horror film and then mutates into a violent fight of male vs. female with a kitchen knife and a crashed car (and an especially graphic birth scene). If you have seen Alex Garland's previous films, you won't be surprised when I say Men is uncomfortable, tense and abstract. Many strange moments happen without explanation, so this film is highly interpretive and will inspire different kinds of understanding from different viewers.
With heavy uses of vibrant red and green colors, and a lot of pagan and biblical imagery, Men is an interesting metaphor of misogyny and the distinctly internal male desire for the control of women (whether it's control by traditional authority or control by physical force). A desire that seems to be so strongly planted into the land that its part of nature itself, passed down from one generation to the next. When I left the movie theater after this one, I spent a lot of time trying to wrap my brain around everything I just saw. I couldn't even decide if I liked this film or not. Is Men supposed to be an indictment of male aggression and entitlement told through naturalism? Is it a science-fiction story of how a tragedy haunts you through unknown forces? Every viewer will need to decide for themselves.
But a film that keeps itself in your memory long after you've seen it is obviously doing something right. It might be a messy mixture of unformed ideas thrown in your face, but it still holds your attention. (And maybe even more importantly, it still holds your memory.) Men reminded me a bit of the 2014 horror film The Babadook, with grief and trauma serving a gateway into unexpected dangers.