By Matt DeCristo
“Men” earns the distinction of being the only film I have ever walked out on. And at a running time of a mere 100 minutes, that’s saying something. The pacing is fine. It wasn’t boring at all. It’s a psychological horror piece that worked well—for the first half. Filmmaker Alex Garland demonstrates the high praise he’s received from arthouse critics is the obligatory elitist acclaim. The creative mind behind “28 Days Later” certainly possesses a knack for being pretentious
Let’s start with the strengths.
The plot itself is a bit tired, but as a horror junkie, I didn’t mind. A young woman named Harper (Jessie Buckley) is dealing with grief. She takes a solo trip to a beautiful estate in the English countryside, but is quickly haunted by ominous forces. While the setting of English mansion surrounded by woods is a bit cliché, the visuals here are quite stunning. Garland uses splashes of vibrant colors to play off a more somber atmosphere. We the viewers are hypnotized as we watch.
I also appreciated the inclusion of the modern world. The massive centuries’ old estate is equipped with old books and a piano. There’s a view of a church steeple poking out from beyond the trees. But it also has a flat screen TV and a Wi-Fi passcode. Jessie uses FaceTime to communicate with her friend. These facets add to the realism of the situation.
Jessie Buckley is the star of the film and does a fantastic job. The character of Harper is complex, and Buckley easily conveys a wide range off of the emotional palette. Flashbacks clue us in as to what happened with her marriage and what has driven here to the present location. We are invested in this character and as we follow her, want her to succeed. It’s a testament to Buckley’s talent. This Irish actress is on the rise, and I can’t wait to see more of her filmography.
As mentioned before, the movie opens with promise. It’s a bit standard but has potential. I was reminded of other modern arthouse horror films such as Ari Aster’s pieces “Hereditary” and “Midsommar.” I had issues with both but still found Aster’s style intriguing. Aster weaves a story and includes visceral moments and gruesome, bizarre imagery. Alex Garland then said “hold my beer.”
“Men” does have some great moments of suspense. It has no jump scares which is fine when the tension leads to something. Here, the buildup goes nowhere. The atmosphere is creepy. The character is pursued. And nothing. I get the deeper meaning. From the insipid title (which could be the worst in cinema history) to the casting of Rory Kinnear playing the part of everyman Harper encounters.
I really liked Kinnear’s performance as the estate custodian Geoffrey. Then he shows up as a strange priest. And then as a sinister looking kid. Then every guy in a bar Harper goes to. Like okay, we get it.
And the ending is a film snob’s wet dream come true. I’d qualify this with a spoiler warning, but that would indicate I knew what was going on. There was a certain turning point in the movie where I shuddered in realization that the film couldn’t recover. It had gone down an arthouse path. It was an ending you’ll need much smarter people to explain.
“Men” isn’t an enjoyable movie. It felt more like a homework assignment. I can appreciate style and expression of art but there needs to be some degree of normalcy. This is a horror movie with no scares, just a lot of WTF moments. I wanted to like this but I may be too dumb to understand.