‘…despite some lofty ideas, ends up playing out like every other horror film; a vulnerable woman in a remote location being terrorised by various men…’

A24 have been on nice run of overt pagan horrors (The Witch, Hereditary), and wacky epics (The Green Knight, Everything, Everywhere All At Once) but that run comes to a juddering end with Alex Garland’s Men. It’s a film that seeks to be a Get Out genre-breaker, but rather than reflecting the fears of a black protagonist about white conspiracies, we’re cheering on a female protagonist taking on a chauvinist conspiracy. That sounds like it might work, except despite some lofty ideas, Garland’s film ends up playing out like every other horror film; a vulnerable woman in a remote location being terrorised by various men.

The secondary twist here is that while Harper Marlowe (Jessie Buckley) is assualted by various masculine types, they’re all played by Rory Kinnear. We meet Marlowe is an opening scene, in which her violent boyfriend James (Paapa Essiedu) falls to his death from her posho Thames apartment. That gives Marlowe reason to head to the fictional village of Cotson, apparently near Gloucester Business Centre, with recuperation her primary aim; she’s greeted by Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) who gives her a tour of the mansion that she’s rented. Marlowe is then stalked by a naked man (Kinnear), complains to the uncaring police (Kinnear), seeks solace with a predatory vicar (Kinnear) and gets spooked by a creepy small boy (Kinnear). It’s hard to avoid coming to the same conclusion as Marlowe; the men in her life are out to get her.

Audiences in the US gave Men a D+ on the Cinemascore rating system, and it’s not hard to see why; to create the illusion that Kinnear is a small boy, his head seems to have been digitally grafted onto a child and the result looks like he’s stuck his face through one of these painted backdrops at an old-school pleasure beach. The grasp of the effects-team falls short of the ambitions of the film-makers, and while there’s lashings of hideous gore in the conclusion, it all goes for very little. Buckley’s accent is all over the place, her character is barely drawn, and Kinnear goes full League of Gentlemen under the kind of latex facemasks that wouldn’t convince even in an outright comedy.

The punch-line, if you stick around to the end, is that bad men create more bad men; this is shown literally as each man gives birth to the next in graphic, bloody body-horror scenes that recall the ‘shunting’ of Brian Yuzna’s superior Society (1989) but without the social context. Men has highfalutin notions that are visible from the trailer, but what the movie itself says is garbled and unclear. Women don’t need men to make films about how men dominate women; there’s a horror film to be made on this subject, but the undercooked Men doesn’t do a prescient idea justice. Men do have a lot to answer for in 2022, but Garland’s heavily metaphorical movie doesn’t land a punch.

Men is out now in the US and arrives at UK cinemas from June 1 2022.


Leave a Reply
  1. I’m seeing this tonight. Do movies have to have answers, solutions, or meanings for them to be enjoyed? I’m curious to see if this psychothriller can still be enjoyed as a horrific experience despite not having the clear social/political punch everyone is talking about. Sometimes, I go for creepy without needing a reason, haha!

  2. I get the sense Garland is one of a growing list of newcomers who experienced a bit of success and critical praise early and it went entirely to their heads. Ari Aster, Ben Wheatley, Robert Eggers. These guys have talent and I appreciate they’re often trying to do something different, but they’re also given to being pretentious, obscure, and wildly overrated by critics who have have become bored and jaded with the usual fare (and not without reason).

    As far as Garland is concerned I could never understand the hype over Ex Machina and Annihilation. This sounds like more of the same, only less original. I’ll probably see it though because I like bad things.

    • …a penchant for the awful which brings you directly to my door…met Garland when he was promoting The Beach, and was excited by the notion of a new John Wyndham or something like that, but most of his best ideas turned out to be familiar tropes, and there’s little about the execution to suggest ownership, althoigh I did like The Tesseract book. Like you, I thought Ex Machina was overrated, but it was a triumph compared to this. Like Wheatley, Garland seems to feel chucking in a couple of pagan symbols equals depth, and just ignores character, plot or any of the other elements that make a story involving. It’s less enfant terrible and more just terrible…

      • I remember liking The Beach (the book) when it came out, but then reading some interviews with Garland soon after and I got a real vibe of someone who was letting it go to his head. His subsequent work hasn’t been that good but he does a good job of concealing his weaknesses behind a lot of glitz. The script for 28 Days Later, for example, was terrible but it was easy not to notice.

  3. Well that’s all a bit of a shame. I sometimes wonder why good actors (as these 2 are) can’t recognise a bad script/plot when they see it, or do they and just go for the money?

    • It’s hard to tell when you’re making a film if it’ll be good or not. The money usually helps.

  4. Such a shame. I really liked Annihilation and Dredd (I believe the talk that Garland was the real director of the 2000AD adaptation), and Devs was pretty good. But I’m only hearing really bad things about Men.

    The trailer looked promising although a bit incoherent – I agree it seemed to promise a ‘Get Out!’ for misogyny. For the record, I felt Get Out! was a bit heavy handed in places and ran out of steam – a problem perhaps when the social commentary and metaphor became stronger than the story (though I really enjoyed Us). So I reckon Men will just irritate me but for all the wrong reasons.

    • Yup, I think this was a DNA production, and it does feel connected to Garland’s other work, but much more simplistic and very reliant on a gimmick that doesn’t really play. I keep meaning to have another look at Dredd, and Annihilation was interesting too, but he never saw an apocalyptic freak-out he didn’t like and the material really doesn’t support the pretentions here. The trailer is actually more effective than the film, and my guess is that irritation will be the main result here; if you’re trying to address the war between men and women, which is fairly one-sided anyway, then having blank, helpless female characters is surely a mistake…

    • I’m not a huge fan of any star rating system, but as you say, in this case, audiences seem to have got it right. Having seen the film, I dodn’t blame them…

  5. Was looking forward to this – the trailer was creepy and I like Jessie Buckley but I see it’s had stinking reviews over the pond. In the absence of anything else I’ll probably go next week but you can’t say I haven’t been warned.

Leave a Reply