"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Men

MEN is this year’s film from Alex Garland (writer of 28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE, 28 WEEKS LATER, NEVER LET ME GO, and DREDD, writer/director of EX_MACHINA and ANNIHILATION). It got mixed/semi-positive-ish reviews but its greatest achievement was a D+ Cinemascore, which sometimes can be a badge of honor.* Much more than the other A24 horror releases this year (X, BODIES BODIES BODIES, and PEARL) this is an A24 horror movie in all the senses of the term, so I advise many of you, you know who you are, to move along to the other movies that they have out there available to watch. I kinda liked it though.

Jessie Buckley (JUDY) plays Harper Marlowe, a recently widowed woman trying to treat herself by renting a huge cottage out in the country. She does a little remote work and keeps in regular touch with supportive friend Riley (Gayle Rankin – Sheila the Wolf Girl from GLOW), but mostly I think she’s trying to get away from it all, relax, take long walks and baths, just try to enjoy being by herself.

Of course it’s hard to do that, even out in the country, even out in the woods. You end up running into people. Awkward conversations are had. People know a little about you and think they should give you their opinion on things. You want to tell them why their advice is bad, but you don’t even owe them that, so it’s not worth getting into it.

Poster for the 2022 film MEN.I like that the title is MEN because it kinda reminds me of nature attacks movies like BEAKS, ORCA, SLUGS, THE BIRDS, GRIZZLY, or ANTS!. In fact I wish it was called MEN!. The title signals that this is meant to be specific to the experience of women being surrounded by men, but I think at least some of it is relatable to everyone – it’s a series of social annoyances growing increasingly hostile. It starts with the owner of the house, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear, QUANTUM OF SOLACE) giving her the tour. She later describes him to Riley as “a real character – a very specific type.” He makes little jokes and he’s funny, but not as much from the jokes as from his overall manner. He has a smile that’s meant to be wry, but comes off as possibly leering. He’s very welcoming and helpful, slightly overbearing, causes some uncomfortable pauses and unnecessary lingering. Later, when it becomes a horror movie, he’s still a joker, not sure if he believes her that anything is wrong, but invokes knights and maidens, and his responsibility as a landlord to protect her – things that are well-meaning and probly harmless, but sort of a symptom of the problem here re: men’s attitudes toward women.

A detail that stands out to me is during the tour when Geoffrey shows her that there’s a piano and asks her if she plays. “Oh – no,” she says. Later on, when she’s alone, she sits down and plays a Chopin piece. It’s not set-up for anything – there’s never some moment where he finds out she lied to him and looks upset, or asks her about it and makes her uncomfortable. It’s just a little piece of insight into where she’s at – she’s only renting the house, she’s not trying to be this guy’s friend, and if she doesn’t want to discuss what instruments she plays it’s not any more of his business than where her husband is. (To that, she implies that she’s divorced, which is also avoiding a conversation.)

She doesn’t need a reason to want to be left the fuck alone, but she has a damn good one. From early on we see flashes of the death of her husband James (Paapa Essiedu, Gangs of London). The first thing we gather is that he jumped to his death from a floor above and made eye contact with her through a window as he fell. Fucked up! And the more that’s revealed the thornier it gets. She had decided to divorce him, and his response was to threaten suicide; after the argument led to him hitting her she appropriately told him off and kicked him out, and that’s when he did it. A final, grievous emotional injury to her, making her feel guilty for standing up for herself. She has alot to process. Leave her alone.

If you want your horror to be quick and easily digestible you may hate this. But if you dig atmospheric, moody and open to interpretation it’s got much to offer. A scene about walking in the woods and finding a tunnel (a normal one, not a scary one) gives her time to enjoy solitude and natural beauty before it starts getting creepy. This is where it starts being more specific to being a woman – a man out for a walk in the woods seeing someone running toward them might be intimidated but feel like they have to stand there and confront the person. This woman wisely says fuck this and runs.

Next she encounters a man with his dick out. There is no outward sign of a threat, a police officer will later note, but of course there doesn’t have to be. We all understand what the possibilities are here. The naked guy follows her home and stands outside the house – there’s a well choreographed sequence of her having a Zoom meeting and then a video call walking into different rooms, repeatedly missing that this guy is behind her, outside the windows. An annoying fact of life for many women: unsolicited dongs always hovering.

There are a handful of other characters, each infuriating in their own ways. The strangest is the one in the Marilyn Monroe mask (seems like symbolism, but I don’t get it) who throws a tantrum and calls her a bitch when she politely declines to play hide and seek. He looks like an adult but seems like a kid, and when we get a good look at him later I finally realized he was an adult’s head on a kid’s body (that symbolism I do get).

What I did not realize, and I may be slow for this, is that the adult head is also Kinnear. And he plays the naked man too, and everyone in the village. That includes the vicar and the cop – people who think they’re helping, and she gives them the benefit of the doubt, but they overstep boundaries and/or disregard what she tells them, thinking they’re just being reasonable, trying to help. These very real frustrations start to bleed into mind-trippy horror: men appearing and disappearing outside the cottage with the flick of a light, eventually straight up threats and chasing, and some surreal and well-executed FX-based freak out shit.

I had heard it had a wild ending, and I do think that aspect lives up to the hype. It’s not a twist, it’s just some crazy shit that’s about half obviously symbolic and half I don’t know what. Plenty to chew on for all experience levels.

CRAZY SHIT SPOILERS THIS PARAGRAPH ONLY: It starts with all the men in the movie being one. The naked man tries to attack her and reaches through the mail slot. She stabs his hand, but he pulls his hand all the way off the knife, causing a huge, nasty split. Then she’s attacked by a procession of each of the men, each of them sharing that wound. But the best part is when the naked man comes up, now covered in plants like Swamp Thing (explain that), his belly expanding, and he lays down and gives birth to the kid, who then grows a belly and gives birth to the vicar, who gives birth to Geoffrey, who gives birth to James.

And there’s a heavy-handed Adam & Eve reference with eating an apple. Let’s call it an homage. Hopefully there’s an “all the easter eggs in MEN” slideshow explaining which book it comes from. Also there’s something about dandelion seeds. It comes up a bunch. I don’t know what that’s about.

This year of 2022 has quite a bounty of memorable horror releases, both of the original and long-running-franchise variety. For me personally MEN doesn’t rank near the top, but it’s also very distinct from any of the other ones, so I would understand anybody saying it was their #1. My advice is that if it sounds like you might like it, try watching it. If you get pretty far into it and you’re hating it, at least fast forward to the end. You’re gonna want to see that shit.

 

*Movies that I and/or others like that got a D+ CinemaScore: Terence Malick’s THE NEW WORLD, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, HEREDITARY, VAMPIRES, THE EMPTY MAN, KNOCK OFF, EVENT HORIZON, VALENTINE, THE WEATHER MAN, ULTRAVIOLET, THE RUINS, HAYWIRE

P.S. Other movies that could’ve been called “MEN” if they wanted to lay all their thematic cards on the table like this: FIRST BLOOD, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, GOODFELLAS, FIGHT CLUB, 300, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, THE NORTHMAN

This entry was posted on Monday, October 24th, 2022 at 7:00 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

13 Responses to “Men”

  1. I liked it up until the ending, which I just found far too much to experience after the more foreboding build-up, even though after the fact, stuff I read about what Garland said presents one possible literal interpretation of what happened:

    SPOILER

    He said the recurring European folklore figure of The Green Man, who represents renewal, was an inspiration on the story, and since there’s a naked dude first encountered in the wild who grows more leafier as it goes on, you can maybe take him as an actual supernatural entity who’s putting Harper through all this in a really messed up attempt to get her past what she’s been through. Maybe not as interesting as a more symbolic reading on things, but it’s there.

  2. I really enjoyed this one. Yes, mostly because of that scene at the end, but it’s also got a great buildup and left me thinking for a long time afterwards.

    I thought it was interesting that each version of Kinnear has a specific type of hostility towards Harper depending on which institution or societal role they have – so the policeman is quietly judgemental and dismissive, the priest horny and resentful because she makes him horny, etc. Mini-Kinnear made me laugh, but I guess his schtick is to demand her time and take her for granted.

    @Stu, I did catch the green man reference, as I’ve been a mythology nerd at various points in my life. My interpretation is

    (YES, SPOILERS)

    …very close to yours – that Harper’s presence warps this natural god-like entity into taking on the forms of her trauma, externalizing what’s on her mind, culminating in that astounding final scene (personally I loved it) where it ends up being her asshole husband.

  3. Every time the trailer for MEN played in any theater I was in, someone inevitably laughed once the title appeared. The first time it was a group of teenage guys in the row in front of me, the type that have natural stoner laughs, so I figured sure, that make sense. The next time, though, it was a row full of young women, and I realized the movie might be in trouble. Neither sex could take the premise seriously.

  4. Yeah, I completely get that.

    It… man, if you think the Greenoweens take wild swings, you need to see this one. That scene Vern mentions with the suicide making eye contact is so over the top I had a very hard time containing a laugh. It’s a horrible situation portrayed in such a silly and operatic manner… You also get a kid with an adult Kinnear face and Mr. Free Willy just letting it all flap in the wind. And all this while it’s still a fairly slow-burn psychodrama/folk horror. It’s not that it’s funny, but laughter seems like an appropriate response to a lot of its provocations, yes, including the bloody madness at the end. A bewildered laughter.
    I’m saying this in an affectionate way, I did like it. It’s got a mean surrealistic streak.

  5. “He has a smile that’s meant to be wry, but comes off as possibly leering.”
    Question about that though: Would it come across as that if Kinnear’s appearance wasn’t altered with makeup to have such exaggerated features, such as with the teeth? I must confess I don’t know what to make of it when a male character’s supposed creepiness can be partially chalked up to a physical feature they ostensibly can’t help having. It sort of undermines the message of it being an inherent quality of the character for me.

  6. I thought this was largely a waste of time, although I obviously thought the ending was wild. My main impression of it was that Buckley’s character has the most hilarious ‘she’s a real person we gave her a job’ capital J Job I’ve ever seen in a movie. She’s not a real person and I’m not sure a man going on a movie length ‘oh woe is me, men are so mean to women’ rant could possibly turn out good. The other attempt at it this year, You Won’t Be Alone, is the better of the two, even if it ends up being a movie length version of that ‘I’m tired of dating smart men. My next boyfriend won’t know how to read’ tweet
    ,

  7. I haven’t heard good things about Don’t Worry Darling, so women aren’t good at the “yes all men” subgenre either. Now that’s equality.

  8. I guess maybe I’m just a contrarian at heart, because normally Vern tries to encourage us meat-and-potatoes horror fans who enjoy movies where things happen instead of movies where they don’t to branch out and try these bullshit slow burn slogs to nowhere, which just makes me say “Not in a million years” (a million years generally being six to 18 months after everyone stops talking about it and does not want to engage with my scathing takedowns when I inevitably hate it), but this time he’s telling me not to bother and I’m like “Don’t tell me what to do! You’re not my dad!” I doubt I’ll
    love it but that ending sounds wild enough to get me through the doldrums. All I ask from these artsy slogs is that they be under two hours and the destination be worth it: The dynamite must go off, we have to actually get to the fireworks factory, etc. I’ve liked Garland’s movies in the past, so I think I’ll probably give this one a chance eventually. It’s almost an hour shorter than MIDSOMMAR so it’s already got that going for it.

  9. Alex Garland has become one of my favorite writer / directors without a doubt. THE BEACH was a bit too flippant and softened the book’s ending (which I think was mostly Boyle’s doing), but I still liked it. SUNSHINE is one of my favorites from its decade, “twist” ending (which was set up early on) and all. I adore EX MACHINA and also really dug ANNIHILATION hard. I was late to the party on DREDD but loved it when I finally saw it. So when I heard he had a new one coming out, I was all in. Oh yeah, I thought. THIS is gonna be good. As far as I’m concerned, the guy’s on something like a 5-movie win streak. Very few others have that kind of record.

    But then I saw the MEN trailers, read some of the plot descriptions and just thought…Huh?!? What? I’m all for creators pushing boundaries, trying new things, stretching their craft and testing themselves on new and unconventional ideas but some off-kilter quasi-horror folktale with the same person playing multiple roles in some kind of David Lynch riff may just be a bridge too far.

  10. Oh I certainly can’t think of any films directed by women in this mold that are any good (we watched The Nightingale shortly after Men and I was aghast that a movie so trite would make me sit through multiple rape scenes), but the ones by women at least don’t have that extra layer of whinging

  11. Y’know…there’s a movie called “Audition” that pulls a similar sort of slow-burn to unmitigated WTFery and it being a genre-bending “take it or leave it” deal that everyone keeps in their horror legitimacy pocket, so…?

    I dunno. Garland-gone-Miike already got my butt in the seat. I dug it the same way I dug Audition.

  12. @Birch yeah, the older I get, the more male directors going on about how men are trash feels like a variation on cooning. Miladying, maybe…

  13. This was the most disappointing film of at least the last five years, if not more.

    It started out slow, then became intriguing, and then, when the tunnel scene came, I was actually feeling goosebumps of excitement.

    And then, almost immediately after that scene, it began getting mediocre, then bad… and in the last third it disintegrated like Stripe, only it didn’t even have a courtesy of disappearing completely, but just left a stain of something that would make coming across a puddle of stale urine and vomit a pleasant alternative.

    At least with the likes of Disney Wars, The Least Jedi, The New Remake, etc., I expected them to be terrible from the time of the announcement, and even though they would inevitably prove even worse than the expectations, at least one could not say that they disappointed. Trash was trash.

    The disappointment that the guys felt at the revelation of The Ballerina Man in “Mystery Men” is nothing compared to plowing through this flick.

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