A wild exploration of harassment and gaslighting, Men starts with a relatable story before it departs from any sense of narrative to indulge in absurdist metaphor. Amazingly, though, it manages to work. Alex Gardner has written and directed a film that purposefully diverges from reality to specifically avoid being taken apart as a rational series of events.
Men starts with Harper (played by Jessie Buckley) arriving at a rental in the countryside where she intends to try to mentally recover for a couple of weeks after watching her husband die. Upon arrival, she's immersed in a town filled with a variety of men who both subtly and not so subtly wear away at her sense of reality in recognizable ways. As the film progresses so does the madness as something otherworldly pursues harper relentlessly while tormenting her emotionally.
If you're looking for a film with a grounded and identifiable monster, Men may not be for you. Men is all about trying to give a face to pervasive uncomfortable existence. Alex Gardner accomplishes this by pushing the narrative past any explainable reality and into pure metaphor. If anything, you can see the effect of too many people trying to read his previous works, such as Annihilation, too literally despite the text of the film highlighting its metaphorical intention. Alex Garnder has clearly taken this as a challenge to create something so off the rails that it cannot possibly be read literally. About two-thirds of the way through the film, the harassment of the men in Men ceases to conform to any kind of literal logic.
This isn't to say that the film isn't logical or that it isn't good. It takes off into a realm of dream logic as the film becomes a waking nightmare. Fans of Mother! will feel right at home at the climax of the film. It's at his point where Men takes off. It becomes a giddy indulgence as it discards the facade that the characters in the film are individuals as opposed to the same monster with a thousand faces.
Tailor-made for the type of person who is able to take a movie apart for hours after you walk out of it, Men is crafted to be dissected. It is a meaty and memorable exploration of marginalization and discomfort. You could endlessly dive into the mannerisms of each of the events and scenes as Alex Gardner explores the experience of death by a thousand cuts.
All of this is propped up by haunting cinematography and sound design and held together by outstanding acting. Jessie Buckley is delightful in the lead role and she is outstandingly supported by Rory Kinnear who manages to slice at her bit by bit.
Unfortunately, despite all of its merits, Men stumbles a bit. Its pacing struggles under the weight of the ideas it has to hold up. In the same way that the abrasive existence that Men explores becomes so pervasive that it is tiresome, so too does the film wear away the viewer's ability to feel. It's deliberate and purposeful, but deliberate and purposefully being pushed to exhaustion is still exhaustion. The thing that saved the movie for me was that even as I was becoming bored of the horror, Jessie Buckley's face is clearly caught in frame and I was able to see that my boredom was reflected in her face. You can only take so much of it.
Other viewers may simply be turned off by the subject matter. It's heavy. The ideas sit on top of you with a weight that makes it difficult to endure. I imagine many people may simply hate the way it conflicts with their own worldviews.
What you're left with is a film that sits with you and wears at you. I think that's pretty wonderful. It's something that horror doesn't do often enough. Walking out of the theater still feeling that discomfort and needing to talk about it is exciting. I was left with memorable moments, haunting in their ability to depict something quiet but unsettling. I think that's the hallmark of a movie that is great. I can understand why this film may be divisive, but it is a delight.
|Final Verdict:||Something deep and primitive elevates Men into a memorable and challenging experience with divisive subject matter.|