Men. Men, men, men. Manly men. Men. Such are the boogey, uh, men of Alex Garland’s Men; a collection of passive-aggressive, aggressive-aggressive, violently aggressive, supernaturally aggressive and otherwise toxic dudes, encroaching on one woman’s much-needed holiday. After the death of her abusive husband, Harper (Jessie Buckley) retreats to a grand country house to recover, owned by ruddy-faced Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear). What begins as an idyllic country vacation becomes a nightmare fight for survival as the village’s male residents take notice, descending upon her space. Men ensue.
There’s the condescending landlord; the sneering vicar; the rude child; the dismissive copper; the horrifying nudist and more; just a few of the many men played by Rory Kinnear (not all men – the abusive ex is played by Paapa Essiedu, the optics of which isn’t great). There’s an escalating sense of aggression to the menfolk’s transgressions – snide remarks by Geoffrey; a wandering hand from the vicar; being called a “bitch” by the creepy village kid. Then there’s the nudist stalking her through the woods, the sneering police officer, and the traumatic memories of a fateful fight with her ex.
Buckley weathers this gruelling assault like a champ, holding her own against each of Kinnear’s eight performances. As a one-man League of not-very-gentle Men, Kinnear does tremendously, without hogging the limelight or detracting from Harper’s story. It’s a smart gimmick, and much of the film’s fun is in trying to predict in which guise Kinnear will show up next – even if they are all in the trailer. Sadly, once the film runs out of its trailer moments, it becomes something of a clumsy mess, stumbling over itself to get to its blunt, heavy-handed message.
There’s no arguing the power of Garland’s images. Cinematographer (and frequent Garland collaborator) Rob Hardy evokes their Annihilation with his lush green forest, while drenching flashbacks in an uneasy orange hue. Together, Hardy and Garland do one of the worst things you’ve ever seen a human hand do – delivering intense gore and Cronenbergian / John Carpenter body horror amidst the religious and pagan symbolism.
All of which is in service of precisely the sort of message you thought Men might be packing. For all it does well, it’s a shallow experience, with very little to say, other than the obvious. Men are horrible and toxic masculinity begets toxic masculinity, who knew?