Written By Darren
Rating 3.5 out of 5
Men features incredibly strong performances from Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear in Alex Garland’s latest film which explores trauma, grief and how men protect other men from facing consequences for their actions with wild ideas, even if it does not stick the landing in the final act.
Garland is a visual filmmaker and knows how to direct an excellent film, and from a technical standpoint, he does exactly that with Men. The cinematography is haunting yet beautiful, using darkness and shadows to create an ominous feeling that something sinister is following our main character. Whether it be the scene in the tunnel which graces the film’s poster, or the night sequence at the house that Harper is staying at, it’s impossible not to get lost in the visuals of the film created by Garland his director of photography Rob Hardy, who collaborated previously with Garland on both Annihilation, Devs, and Ex Machina. As with his previous films, the musical score plays an important part in creating the atmosphere of the film, especially in the third act which is largely void of dialogue. Based around the sounds that Harper created in that tunnel, the musical score creates a chilling soundscape that perfectly complements the challenging ideas and themes being explored in the role.
Though, like with his previous films, it is the performances that are the highlight of the film. Jessie Buckley is tremendous in the lead role of Harper, a woman looking for a quiet English countryside getaway after the death of her ex-husband. Full of grief and trauma from his death, Buckley gives a nuanced performance that perfectly captures the fragile state of her character as well as her strong willed nature. She has been making her mark on the industry the past few years with incredible performances in films like The Lost Daughter and Wild Rose, but this is without her best performance to date. Whether it be the moments where she is developing her character or fully immersed in the horror elements of the story, it’s impossible to take your eyes of Buckley the entire film.
Opposite Buckley is Rory Kinnear, taking on the role of every male character in the town that Buckley’s Harper picks for her vacation spot. With each male character, Kinnear finds something truly unsettling. It’s not easy to craft one character in a film, but to do it multiple times is a truly daunting task. Some of the characters are more sympathetic but with a dark side, while others are just truly unsettling, but Kinnear excels! Watching him slowly torment Buckley numerous times with each different character is something else, as the two of them are a knockout combo on screen. I knew Buckley was a phenomenal actress, but Kinnear wowed me as he is so often a supporting character but he was incredible from start to finish.
However, Garland’s writing is where the film stumbles. The first hour starts off incredibly strong with Garland presenting the central ideas of the film: grief, trauma, and men protecting other men. The ideas are slowly explored as Harper reflects back on her ex-husband’s death, as the occurences in the small English town grow increasingly disturbing. It’s a slow burn, but one you cannot take your eyes off. But the film slips in the final act. It’s a classic horror sequence full of jump scares and disturbing images that truly had me holding my breath. I was absolutely loving the sequence, but Garland takes the mind trip too far in the final twenty minutes, where I felt that the ideas of the film were lost for the sake of grotesque images. My eyes began rolling as Garland A24’d himself, and unfortunately missed the mark on driving home the ideas he was exploring as it was muddled in the course of the disturbing moment involving many of Kinnear’s characters. I have heard of some people thinking this was the perfect way to end the film, but for me it did not stick the landing and unfortunately derailed this directorial effort from being truly great like his other films.
Men is a good film, it’s incredibly well made and the performances are outstanding, but the ending left a sour taste in my mouth. Much like Alex Garland’s previous films, Men is beautifully shot and haunting like his other films, with stellar performances from Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear, even if the ending didn’t deliver on the excellent setup of the first two acts.