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Review: ‘Men’ is a Fantastical and Terrifying Tale of One Woman’s Struggle Against Toxic Masculinity

May 20, 2022Ben MK

Best known for science fiction parables like Ex Machina and Annihilation, Alex Garland is a director who has always placed strong female characters at the forefront of his movies. Even as the writer behind such films as Never Let Me Go and Dredd, his knack for capturing the perspective of a woman trapped in a man's world has always been evident. But with his latest, the aptly titled Men, Garland has unleashed what may be his most polarizing work yet, addressing the topic of toxic masculinity by way of a tale of psychological terror and body horror — one that is as disturbing as it is allegorical.

On the surface, the story is simple. Harper (Jessie Buckley) is a widow and working class Londoner who has been through hell. After telling her husband of several years, James (Paapa Essiedu), that she plans to divorce him, he physically assaults her and then falls to his death from the balcony of the flat above theirs. Looking to heal from this traumatic incident, Harper books an extended stay at a 500-year-old house in the English countryside, in the hopes that some quiet time alone will allow her to process her emotions and move past the pain that she's just experienced. Owned by a seemingly harmless, middle-aged man named Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), the house also happens to be surrounded by lush green fields and acres of forest. However, when Harper begins exploring the area, she quickly discovers that things are not quite as idyllic and serene as she thought.

Soon, strange occurrences begin to plague Harper everywhere she goes, from the naked man who appears to be stalking her to the unexplained glitches with her smartphone, which seems to suggest that something eerie and supernatural is attempting to wreak havoc with her mental state. But the strangest of all would have to be the fact that all the men she encounters throughout this time share one thing in common — they all have the same face. Whether it's the town vicar, who attempts to gaslight her into thinking that her husband's death was her fault, or a creepy schoolboy in a Marilyn Monroe mask who wants to play a game of hide and seek with her, they all bear a striking resemblance to Geoffrey. Could it mean that the whole situation is unfolding inside Harper's head? Or is there something more sinister afoot — and will Harper figure things out before it's too late?

What happens next will no doubt have viewers pondering the same conundrum, especially as Garland begins to weave multiple layers of imagery and symbolism into the narrative, adding religious subtext to a movie already rife with commentary about feminism, gender roles and patriarchal norms. At the same time, there's also the extremely graphic and unsettling body horror aspect of the film, which arguably rivals anything that David Cronenberg has put on-screen, and which provides audiences with one of the most intense and uniquely memorable climaxes they're ever likely to witness. Suffice to say, the result may not make a whole lot of sense to most, but it's certainly not something that's meant to be easily interpreted, nor will it be quickly forgotten.

It all amounts to a horror movie that will certainly prove divisive to filmgoers accustomed to seeing the same genre formulas repeated over and over again. Yet, for all its shocking twists and turns, there's one thing that remains constant about Men, and that's Garland's distinctive vision. Make no mistake, this isn't a film to be consumed as mere escapism. On the contrary, as fantastical as it is, this is a tale that invites viewers to look deep within themselves, and to contemplate the real-life dread that permeates our society today.

Men releases May 20th, 2022 from VVS Films. The film has an MPAA rating of R for disturbing and violent content, graphic nudity, grisly images and language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 40 min.

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