Heading into UK cinemas today (and still playing in US cinemas) is the mind-bending British folk-horror, Men. The movie – written and directed by Alex Garland – stars Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear, and tells the story of a woman who becomes terrorised by a group of men whilst on holiday.
In the movie, Harper Marlowe is a widow, trying to come to terms with the sudden and violent death of her husband. Dealing with the grief and in desperate need of a break from daily life, she decides to rent a luxurious country house in the small village of Cotson.
Upon arrival at the house, Harper is greeted by its owner Geoffrey. He introduces himself, they exchange pleasantries, and once she is all checked in Harper soon heads out to explore the local countryside.
After walking for sometime in a nearby forest, Harper comes upon a disused railway tunnel. The tunnel intrigues her, and she spends a few moments inside the structure listening to echoes.
But Harper’s enjoyment of her surroundings soon begins to sour when she sees a lone figure in the distance. The figure appears to be that of a man, and without any warning he suddenly runs towards her.
Frightened by the situation, Harper leaves the tunnel and quickly heads out of the forest and onto a farmer’s field. But just as she is catching her breath, she spots a naked man stood in the field starring at her.
Disturbed by what she sees, and believing the naked man to be the same person she saw in the tunnel, she heads back to the house. However, the next day, the same man appears in the garden, frightening her further.
Over the next few days, Harper finds herself encountering more of the local inhabitants of Cotson and all of them appear to be as strange as the naked man. But what’s more worrying, is that bar one person she encounters, all of the locals are men and they all appear to be quite hostile.
If you’ve caught the trailer for Men, you will already know this is a quirky-looking movie with a very unique selling point. The selling point is as follows: Almost all of the men who appear in the movie are portrayed by the same actor.
Unless one or two passed me by, I counted eight different characters in Men, all performed by Rory Kinnear. All of the characters are very different (vicar, police man, pub landlord, etc), but they all have a slightly sinister edge to them.
The continual use of this one actor is never addressed in the story, but it is something which is very significant in terms of the movie. While Harper seems oblivious to the multiple Kinnears engulfing her surroundings, the audience is aware of the repeated use of this one actor and this adds a level of unease and discomfort to the film.
And to be clear, Men is quite an uncomfortable film in general. It is intriguing, yet at times frustrating, and it is imaginative, and yet at other times completely bonkers.
This is the sort of film that some will watch and thoroughly enjoy, while others will leave the auditorium scratching their heads wondering what the heck they just witnessed. I believe it is fair to say that Men is not for everyone and some may not like it at all.
But did I enjoy it? Yes, but I came away not feeling entirely satisfied.
There are parts of the movie which work very well – which I’ll get on to momentarily – but there is one part which didn’t fully hit the spot for me. That part is the story.
Men deals with various themes, including grief, guilt, and toxic masculinity, with a great deal of the story itself left open for interpretation. This I have no huge issue with, as I feel it gives audiences the opportunity to draw their own conclusions.
But somewhere between the beginning of the film and the end, I believe the story gets away from itself a little. The build-up is far more intriguing than the pay off, and the finale comes across a little messy and slightly underwhelming.
By the time the credits rolled, I could safely say that I had enjoyed the vast majority of the film, but I knew the story didn’t quite land in the way that I would have liked. It left me with much to think about, but also a slight feeling that I wanted a little more from the ending.
So, for me, the weakest aspect of Men is some (BUT NOT ALL) of the narrative. A few tweaks here and there is all that is needed, but as it stands, I feel it falls a little short.
However, what works incredibly well in this movie are the central performances. Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear are fantastic and they make this film what it is.
Buckley is great in the role of Harper, and brings both strength and vulnerability to the part. She plays a woman who is trying to navigate her way through tragedy and grief, and her disturbing encounters with the men of Cotson are both horrifying and fascinating in equal measure.
As for Kinnear, all I can say is bravo to the actor for managing to deliver eight different characters, all of whom are dreadfully creepy. Kinnear is mesmerising to watch, and with the exception of one character who is let down by a dodgy bit of CGI, every one of his performances is top notch.
He won’t get nominated for his performances at next year’s Oscars, because I expect Men won’t appear on the Academy’s radar, but he deserves some recognition for what he serves up in this film. Pairing him up with Buckley is also a masterstroke, as they both complement each other very well.
Due to the combination of what Buckley and Kinnear bring to the screen, it’s difficult not to like Men. Regardless of where the story goes by the end, these two actors are watchable all day long.
But it’s not just the Buckley/Kinnear combo that’s a winner, Men also benefits from some fine cinematography, a beautiful setting, an unnerving score, and some solid supporting roles for Paapa Essiedu and Gayle Rankin. These two actors only get bit-parts, but they sell their characters perfectly and add to the overall piece.
So, all of this is great – it’s just that slight niggle with the story for me. Had the narrative hit the same heights as all of these other components in the film, I’d be offering higher praise for Men.
However, it is good, the performances are superb, and I liked it very much. I plan to view the movie again in the not-too distant future, because there is something interesting in here, I just need to make it clear that Men has a flaw and this stops it from being the stand-out feature I wish it could be.