Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Movie Review: Men (2022)

Cerebral British writer-director Alex Garland's latest opus Men is almost a cross between two recent psychological horror films, Darren Aronofsky's mother! and Ari Aster's Midsommar.  Like the former it is largely a parable meant to convey an easily relatable but perhaps too simplistically on-the-nose message, via nightmarishly disturbing imagery.  Like the latter it concerns a damaged woman on vacation, working through an unhealthy relationship (or in this case its aftermath). 

Men stars Jessie Buckley as Harper Marlowe, a widow who has rented a sprawling old house in the English countryside, and Rory Kinnear as the house's owner Geoffrey (among other characters).  Harper's backstory is doled out to us in dribs and drabs, and we learn that she and her husband (Paapa Essiedu) were headed for a contentious divorce when suddenly he fell from a balcony to a grisly death (Was it intentional or accidental?).  Throughout the film Harper experiences flashbacks to these horrific moments, providing some of the film's best-acted scenes.  

But quickly her vacation takes an unsettling turn as a naked, homeless man begins stalking her and at one point tries to break into the house.  Harper calls the police and the man is taken away, but her psychological trauma is far from over.  Of the plot I won't reveal any more, but this film certainly delivers the creeps in spades.
Rory Kinnear proves himself a veritable chameleon, well-meaning but off-putting as Geoffrey, and later creepy and judgmental as the local vicar, dismissive and mansplaining as the arresting police officer, and vulgar and misogynistic as a troubled young boy.  Oddly neither the film nor Harper calls attention to the fact that every male character looks like Rory Kinnear.

Like Midsommar and mother! this film is chock full of viscerally upsetting, squirm-inducing moments and visuals, while seemingly paying homage to Roman Polanski's Repulsion (also about an isolated woman who thinks she's being terrorized) and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (the house's red walls and practical lighting evoke the Overlook Hotel).  On that level it succeeds; this is a very well-crafted work of psychological dread.  But as with mother! I found myself becoming disengaged emotionally once it became clear most of what was happening was metaphorical.  And even though I basically agree with the film's messaging, I found it a bit too unsubtle and inelegant even down to its title; if the real point of a movie is to hammer home an uncomplicated concept, said concept needs to be presented in an understated way and dressed up with a really gripping narrative.  Midsommar accomplished this masterfully, mother! did not, at all.  

Men fell somewhere in the middle for me - on the one hand I loved the visuals and the performances, but on the other the film took so clear a position on its central theme it almost forgot to build a proper story around it.

On the whole I give Men *** out of ****.

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