Review: Toxic Masculinity Tale 'Men' Destined for Cinematic Greatness

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday May 20, 2022

'Men'
'Men'  (Source:A24)

Fans of writer/director Alex Garland can rejoice! His latest horror/thriller movie, "Men," is another masterwork of mood and ideas. That said, general audiences might not totally get the film, and, to be fair, it's a thinker that will have you asking questions long after the credits have finished rolling.

But for many of us, that's okay. This movie is a trip in the best of ways, and even if you aren't sure you're grasping everything that Garland is going for, you're fascinated by what's unfolding.

The film opens with a fight between Harper (Jessie Buckley) and her boyfriend James (Paapa Essiedu), where she basically tells him their relationship is over, while he attempts to manipulate her into staying. We then cut to Harper arriving at a country estate Airbnb she's rented to sort through some recent traumatic events.

Tellingly, the moment she steps inside the walls of the yard, she comes across an apple tree where she symbolically plucks an apple from a low branch and takes a bite. This sets up the theme of "Men" nicely: it's all women's fault... or is it?

Okay, so that's not the main theme, but Garland is clearly going for a film that shows the constant effect of men's gaslighting, manipulation, and power to dominate Harper, who is sort of a stand-in for all women.

The first man she meets is Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), the owner of the house. He seems genial and kind at first, but occasionally makes comments that put his psyche into perspective. This is not lost on Harper. Eventually, though, Harper runs into other men about town — all played by Kinnear. This is never commented on directly, but as the film progresses you start to see that the men seem to represent men Harper has known with toxic traits that led her to the with the man she was breaking up with in the opening sequence — a man who eventually kills himself.

From a rude adolescent (also played by Kinnear), to a manipulative pastor, to a naked stalker, to a patron at a bar, all of them show different sides of men that women are forced to deal with almost on a daily basis.

As the film progresses, the story (for what it is) gets more and more bizarre, dangling between home invasion thriller, to body horror, to something creepier and more esoteric. "Men" doesn't end on a clear-cut note, and it's then that you leave the theater asking questions and contemplating what you've seen. This might not work for everyone, but for this reviewer it was a thrill to process what I had just seen to make sense of it.

Buckley is — to be cliché — a tour de force, leaning into Harper as the distraught trauma survivor and the "take no crap" gal she truly is, despite the treatment she's been exposed to. It's that part of her personality that needs to be brought to the surface. There are inklings here and there, but she's a victim to how the men around her treat her; until she's pushed to the brink. Buckley portrays this flawlessly, with a raw curiosity and a resolute determination to take back her life.

Kinnear is a treat, dancing between characters as easily as if they were played by different people. Each has his own look and personality. But added to that is a particular trait that illustrates the misogynistic behavior that men can possess. Sometimes it's obvious. Other times, it's subtle. But it's all 100% truthful.

This is the strength of Garland's latest. There isn't a frame of film that isn't pregnant with symbolism or meaning. ("Pregnant" is a telling word in this film. Just wait...) While not everyone will comprehend everything he's trying to say or do, it's clear that no moment is wasted. It will be a great film for cinema studies, and go down as a classic for a lot of reasons.

You've never seen anything like this before — like it or not, that's a good thing. Men, on the other hand? At least a large handful of them... they sorta suck. "Men," the movie, doesn't. I'd argue it's close to being Garland's masterpiece.

"Men" opens in theaters nationwide May 20th.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.