The term ‘toxic masculinity’ has become such common parlance that it has been essentially boiled down to, ‘Men = bad’.
The term has also been thrown at Alex Garland’s latest movie, Men, where a recently bereaved woman travels to a small English village to rest and replenish, only to uncover a naked aggression exposed by the simple virtue of her existence.
Insofar as indeed the movie contains many men and said men = bad then it isn’t a surprise that such terminology got thrown about. Yet in Men, Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation) chooses to swerve from a deep dive into the how, whys, and wherefores of the roots of male toxicity.
Instead he brings his signature visual style to a film that uses on-screen metaphor to give slimy life to each slice of the threat.
What Is Men About?
Considering she is almost the sole focus of the camera for most of its run time, Jessie Buckley carries Men’s narrative with comfort.
After a dream like opening sequence, Harper (Buckley) treats herself to a lovely old country home for a get away. Owner Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear, The Diplomat) gives her a friendly brusque tour before trotting off to the ‘really nice’ pub around the corner.
It becomes clear early on that something is amiss in this place. Garland utilises classic folk horror techniques to weave in disquieting sound effects and ominous locations, such as a disused tunnel and secluded woods.
Buckley’s determination to not be cowed doesn’t override her sense of self preservation. We are right behind her as she flees and consistently makes the right choices, only to be thwarted by what envelopes her.
Men Official Trailer
Is Men Worth Watching?
The power of sound design should never be underestimated. Frequent Garland collaborators Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow (the latter of the band Portishead) use recurring echoing motifs to great effect.
Many scenes are infused with an otherworldly foreboding; the score is as much a character as the village itself or Kinnear’s looming presence.
Garland asks a lot of Kinnear and he inarguably delivers superb work. Each interaction with a constantly thwarted Harper lends weight to the feeling that she is at the mercy of each facet of male oppression.
Men presents no specific political or sociological exploration. Garland paints a picture with the characters and what they represent to craft a complete work; at every turn there is danger, hidden or overt.
Those who saw Garland’s previous movie Annihilation will likely recall the trippy lighthouse sequence as Men shudders into its final act.
There is no need to get your thinking cap on this time though: the sledgehammer of visual metaphor is as unquestionable as it is repulsive and memorable. Subtlety is not required.
One accusation that reviews often lob (and this reviewer is no exception) is that a movie is not ‘as smart as it thinks it is’. Men has certainly drawn that comment out of reviewer’s veins, smacking of smug intellectualism.
Arguably though, Men is not trying to be smart. Garland has taken a series of broad brush strokes to daub his canvas with something so strikingly obvious and yet so shockingly smeared that its ugly revulsion is unavoidable.
The daily reality for many is here, in all its guises. You dare not look away.
Words by Mike Record
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