Men is primed to be one of the more talked about movies of 2022, with writer/director Alex Garland venturing into a thematic territory that is bound to make a few folks angry by the time the wickedly audacious finale of Garland’s latest rolls around. As he’s done previously with both Ex Machina and Annihilation, Garland has once again crafted a project that defies any sort of straightforward genre labels, which is one of my favorite things about his work. And while I viewed Men as this haunting and unflinching examination of not only grief, but the guilt that can accompany someone as they are navigating their way through the grieving process, I suspect that others are only going to accept this story at a surface level, which is a shame, because I think that there are some pretty complex and horrifically thought-provoking themes at play in Men that truly gave me a lot to think about once it was over.
In Men, we follow a young woman named Harper (Jessie Buckley) who is dealing with the suicide of her husband James (Paapa Essiedu). After James’ death, Harper decides to take off for a few weeks, renting a lovely home near a small town in the English countryside. When she arrives, she’s greeted by the ever-helpful Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) who is just a little too eager to assist Harper as she settles into her vacation home. After she gets situated, Harper begins to explore the area around her, enjoying the almost hyper-lush surrounding forest areas and idyllic locales. But the more that Harper explores, the more unsettling things become for her, culminating in a harrowing third act that has to be seen to be believed.
If it sounds like I didn’t really explain much about Men’s story, that’s by design, as I feel like Garland has created a very specific and extremely visceral emotional journey for viewers that keeps amping up the further we get into the film, and I want others to get to experience it the way that I did in my first viewing. But what I can say is that I went into Men thinking I was going to experience a certain type of horror film - and for a while, I did - but in pure Garland style, the story ventures into some very unexpected territories once we are privy to the all the details that he had been subtly weaving into his narrative from the very beginning. That switch is something you’re either completely on board for, or you are not, but I was fully enthralled and ready to go wherever Garland was set to take me throughout Men so the change-up worked for me entirely.
One thing I wanted to mention here, just because I know it’s going to be a tough thing for some viewers, is how aggressively confrontational Men is at times, particularly when it comes to the topic of suicide and the graphic aftermath of what happens with James during his death. I think for anyone who has ever been suicidal, or has known someone who has committed suicide, there are some rather unyielding moments in Men that I was not wholly prepared for, and I just thought it was worth mentioning here in case it helps anyone who maybe isn’t ready to sit through such material. There’s nothing exploitative about how suicide is presented in Men though; it’s just that it doesn’t shy away from certain aspects of it which could be a lot to handle for some.
Both Buckley and Kinnear shine in Men, as they give positively outstanding performances here that truly run the gamut in some unusual ways. In fact, Kinnear takes on a multitude of roles throughout Men, which is a purposeful decision by Garland, as it ties into one of the overarching themes of his narrative. It’s also worth noting that Men features some of the most audacious special effects I’ve seen this side of Society and The Thing (1982), which makes the movie worth the price of admission alone in my book (but your mileage may vary). And as someone who is very much about celebrating the special effects work we see in movies, I think everyone involved in Men is deserving of all the heaps of praise that are sure to come their way, because they deserve it, and then some.
As mentioned, Men is surely to be a divisive film amongst moviegoers once it’s released, but I think that’s what I appreciate about it most. Garland dares to take his latest project in some uniquely bold directions that pretty much defy genre conventions, resulting in a truly singular viewing experience. I’m someone who relishes whenever a movie can pull the rug out from under me, so to speak, so I was completely on board for how Harper’s journey unfolds in Men, but I do recognize that not everyone is going to have the same reaction, which is okay. Whether you love it or you hate it, Men is a movie that’s going to stick with you for a while, and I believe that it perfectly showcases Garland’s wild genius and penchant for creating films that dare to step out of the proverbial box in some truly exceptional ways.
Movie Score: 4/5