'Men' Review: Jessie Buckley On A Horribly Traumatising Getaway In Alex Garland's Folk Thriller
Well, surely not all men, right? Either way, however you may identify, chances are that your date night won't have much of a happy ending if you've decided to see writer-director Alex Garland's latest output Men together. While teasing you with more character-focused action at first and showing some traditional elements too, this folk horror-thriller eventually does go to gnarlier places later on which can turn many people off. Jessie Buckley plays Harper, recently widowed woman who goes on a calm getaway to remote country house, away from her life in the city. She meets the odd but campy landlord named Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) before settling in and going on a walk in the woods. Harper then has unpleasant encounters with men, such as a stalking trespasser, young boy and local priest, as we also find out that her husband James (Paapa Essiedu) might have died by suicide after an act of abuse towards Harper.
Your patience for Garland's style may understandably vary, though personally it is often intriguing, but never before has he managed to ground a film so much something as ordinary as the main cast. Buckley's immediately captivating presence isn't gone here either as Men's half-silent beginning flows pretty much with her effort alone, while in the second half she gets to perform outwards as well with Harper's shock, numbness and terror on display. Buckley also gets a great scene partner in Kinnear to elevate those moments since Geoffrey brings with him some levity in his first scenes before also crucially moving the plot along when Harper expresses her concerns.
Men doesn't rely just on those actors, though, because the technical execution is on a similar level to Garland's previous works. There's great detail in Rob Hardy's cinematography and the colour grading but the sound design (supervised by Glenn Freemantle) gets to really take the centre stage because Garland uses silence so well, exemplified in a scene where Harper creates a vocal echo in a tunnel before something disturbing comes back, this echo is then also used effectively with Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury's score.
All these mentioned elements carry the movie very strongly for about 70 minutes so it's a slight shame that last 25 are significantly weaker in comparison. Funnily enough for such thoughtful filmmaker and prestige cast, the atmosphere is at its highest when it's kind of a straightforward home invasion thriller which then would serve as a metaphor to abuse that Harper faced. What comes at the end with surreal weirdness and off-putting imagery, as well as a level of helplessness when it comes to Harper, is therefore a letdown because it just doesn't quite seem to fit the tone and makes the story overly obscure to interpret. You don't always have to go overboard like that when you have performances and filmmaking this good.
Smileys: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, sound design
Frowneys: Ending, story
Bet it would be super original to call this ''Mehn'' if you think it's mediocre.