After the death of her partner, Harper takes what should be her perfectly peaceful escape to the countryside to recover. Only there’s something very wrong in the nearby woods, possibly even something wrong with the entire village she has chosen for a retreat.

Men is arthouse horror in the best possible way. Shot for beauty, surrealism, and the sublime, while not being weighed down with hollow pretentious sequences for the sake of signalling, it is ‘serious’ horror; a tedious pitfall of aspiring “Elevated Horror” features – what has been committed to the screen here is notably outstanding.

Men Horror Film Poster

The movie is something of a double act carried by only two actors, not that there aren’t significant characters outside of Jessie Buckley’s starring role and Rory Kinnear’s bizarre menagerie of Men; nevertheless, the two performers carry the clear majority of screentime. The character of Harper here could have risked just being a cardboard cut-out who’s moved from set piece to set piece, more a role and less a character, but Buckley subverts such limitation with Oscar-worthy style. Smothered by trauma that constantly threatens to break her,  and demonstrating layers of strength to never succumb to either past tragedy or ongoing preturnatural events, Harper is also a character reacting organically to the outlandish supernatural threat she has blundered into. As her character comes under more stress, Buckley gives a varied performance that shifts around Harper’s current state of mind in line with how overwhelmed she currently is. She can be angry, she can be scared, she can succumb to gut-wrenching grief and distress in powerful breakdown scenes, and she can also sometimes just shut down in shock. While it can be commonplace for a horror protagonist to just have to keep going to serve the plot– such as in the latest Halloween movie when Jamie Lee Curtis has to get out of bed with a freshly sealed gut wound so her character can be present for some town drama– Buckley will sometimes just shut down for a moment when faced with relentless mental distress. This is an uncommon approach for the genre where such decisions may backfire in less capable hands, horribly looking like there are scenes where everyone just forgets to do anything, but the director and the lead are more than up to the challenge here.

What risked overshadowing the leading lady here is the men of “Men”, and just how powerfully odd director Alex Garland makes this movie. The obvious trick here may be one of the most disarming if a viewer went in unaware, that being Rory Kinnear plays all but one male role in Men. Mostly a tour de force of imaginative costuming work combined with incredible character acting from Kinnear handling a range of strange archetypes – not to mention the occasional body double with some CGI added to achieve some things Kinnear couldn’t physically do without some digital artistry – the impact of this cinematic trickery is powerful. While not every one of his Men personas get a lot to do, each is distinct and multiple are outstanding individual roles he brings to life. Some of these uncanny creations will haunt viewers moreso even than the body horror which the third act goes on to gleefully embrace. With Rory Kinnear doing so much heavy lifting, it could be easy to miss a certain man, the only non-Kinnear role of James played by Paapa Essiedu. Essiedu more than holds his own against the myriad Kinnears with a character that manages to stay relevant to the riveting plot, no matter how deranged the narrative becomes, of an unfolding mystery always presenting flashback revelations to add further weight to paranormal events dominating the present. While these flashbacks are a much more grounded horror compared to being besieged by a parade of increasingly deranged Rory Kinnear performances, it makes a compelling and darkly dramatic foundation working in tandem with the supernatural forces Harper must contend with.

Men 2022 Film Horror
So much is going on in the foreground with Men it can be easy to lose details in the mix. Gayle Rankin’s supporting role as Riley feels more significant in hindsight than it seemed during a first watch, adding yet another layer to the already densely packed story. Zak Rothera-Oxley can get a little overlooked as the teenage boy antagonist since his face is digitally replaced with Rory Kinnear’s, but there’s a lot of body language put into the role to sell Samuel as a threat which should be appreciated as Rothera-Oxley’s contribution to the role. The location team for Men especially deserves accolade here, while the cinematographer who presents these does so beautifully. Rob Hardy rightfully deserves heavy congratulations themselves, but a team of seven dealt with the setting of the movie, making a superb job of giving the outlandish events a beautiful place to inhabit. The small town and British countryside are picturesque perfection, adding an aesthetic layer to the already complex events of Men. The crew vastly outnumbers the cast here, and everyone’s effort really shines through in the final product. Men really is a visually striking feature on top of being an impressive new entry in surreal horror from the story side.

There has been controversy surrounding Men from some quarters, however, as a number of critics feel that it escalates in such a way it compromises the first two acts to descend into utter madness for the finale. To an extent, it is hard to argue with this. For a lot of the run time, Men is a tense thriller with heavily surreal otherworldy aspects taking it to another level a conventional drama wouldn’t be able to reach. Once the movie pivots away from this, it’s understandable some viewers who were really enjoying the set up stages could feel disappointed in what comes next. Yet, what comes next is a brilliant and powerful thrill ride. Still packing subtle layers to the story content, the action becomes much more overt. Men is at its peak as a genre film for this finale, asserting itself as a strong entry to the body horror subgenre. The bold and frequently brutal third act turn continues the story, not to mention the unsettling atmosphere, built up so far in interesting ways that are still undeniably a jarring acceleration into heavier horror territory. All of which is deliberate and masterfully crafted by Alex Garland, along with the brilliant team assembled here, it is still quite the audacious tone shift that will sadly not suit every viewer – although it will delight equally as many others. To be this divisive stems from bold choices made by Garland, who was the sole writer as well as visionary director. Even those who were disappointed by the sudden shift in tempo should respect he has made exactly the movie he wanted to here without compromise.

Men is undeniably high in quality, easily one of the most fantastic looking horror movies of recent years, but it is a deeply strange experience. Loaded with ambiguity, not even slightly interested in giving definitive answers for what’s going on, it’s not a challenge that the unprepared should be taking on. If you’re after something weird, this movie is more than ready to show you some unnerving new sights, but go in forewarned that you may not be ready for just how weird Men is going to get before the overwhelming surrealism finally lets you go as the credits roll.



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