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.