In Alex Garland’s Men, Jessie Buckley’s Harper is stalked by men, both metaphorically and physically. The questionable death of her husband takes her to a countryside rental home to escape her grief, guilt, and relief only to have her newfound peace disrupted by MEN (in the form of multiple Rory Kinnears), everywhere and practically all at once.
This intruder-style horror film attempts some form of social commentary about abusive men and toxic masculinity. However, even the interesting supernatural twist, gorgeous cinematography, a powerful performance from Buckley, and haunting music don’t make up for the fact that despite having Harper in every scene, her perspective is still somehow lost in the fray.
Men looks and sounds beautiful; the endless sea of green countryside disrupted by decrepit buildings and old, renovated houses invites comfort. This is just another place. An effective use of red light in flashback scenes provides a harsh contrast between the past and the present until the red seeps into current events even more disturbingly. The score from Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury is another highlight. Integrating Buckley’s eerie “Ha!” —first yelled into the depths of a dark tunnel—into the score twists a moment of child-like innocence and fun into a haunting regret.
Despite Men’s technical achievements, the writing stands in the way of a truly effective horror film. The title “Men” is of course a deliberate generalization, but by generalizing, Garland swings too wide and misses the one important rule to storytelling—specificity is universal. Yes, women will recognize scenarios throughout this film as ones we’ve most likely all experienced in some form or another—the gaslighting from her husband, the feeling that someone’s following you, and the disregard from police about a dangerous man. Yet the supernatural element to Men—the multiple Kinnears—is where the metaphor of “all men” doesn’t quite stick the landing.
It’s an interesting concept that speaks to a systemic and cyclical problem—Harper deals with one man stalking her, and all the other men who can do something about it don’t. And they all have the same face. From the police to the Vicar, men in authority and just seemingly normal men down at the pub pay no attention to the cries for help from a woman. A jaw-droppingly final confrontation between Harper and the Kinnears takes the idea that abuse is a cycle to a whole other level. But throughout all the typical intruder-style horror elements, what exactly does Harper think about all of this? What is she seeing?
It is difficult to tell, and the film isn’t interested in what she has to say at all. The audience sees multiple Kinnears but there is no telling what Harper sees. The supernatural elements get lost in Garland’s reach for the metaphor, leaving behind his female character, whose point of view should be the most important here. By the end, the film implies Harper is to blame on some level for the film’s events, but even with the mark of a welcoming smile, nothing has changed.
Men is in theaters now. Watch the trailer below.