For fans of A24 horror movies (like Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” or Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” where cerebral replaces slashing) comes Alex Garland’s “Men,” a movie where images flesh out the exposition. If you like your scares spoon-fed, don’t waste your time. If visuals and mood make your blood curdle, Garland’s got you covered.
Jessie Buckley stars as Harper, a recently widowed woman who rents a house in the English countryside to collect herself after the calamity she’s suffered. The home’s owner Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) gets Harper situated when she arrives and, as the village is remote, assures her that he’s right down the road should she need anything. After settling in, Harper begins to walk around the grounds and the neighboring woods, where the constant rain has provided lush greenery and mud puddles aplenty.
One such walk leads Harper to an abandoned railroad tunnel where she playfully shouts to hear her echoing voice. All play ends when the silhouette of a naked man appears at the other end of the tunnel. Making haste to get back to her house, Harper calls the cops. When the naked man follows Harper home, he’s apprehended by local police.
Subsequent town outings also have their share of strangeness. A visit to the local church to vent her grief finds Harper face-to-face with a Marilyn Monroe-masked boy who rudely remarks to Harper’s rebuff of playing hide-and-seek with him and a vicar who inadvertently asks Harper if she’s the cause of her husband’s demise. Harper’s visit to the local pub to unwind has the reverse effect: she learns the naked man’s been released from the arresting officer who’s popped in for a pint. Although Harper doesn’t say it, we sense it: don’t all the men in this town look somewhat alike?
As I mentioned, it’s director Garland’s visuals that create the creepy vibe: “Men” is a movie where a horrific idea is fleshed out with images, dialogue is limited and the mere suggestion of a story serves as its foundation. As a litmus test for whether you’ll enjoy “Men,” it reminded me of Nicholas Roeg’s 1973 film “Don’t Look Now:” both films beginning with a tragic death that follows the surviving family members with equally foreboding evil and violent aftereffects.
While I would have preferred more exposition, I can’t deny Garland creates an eerie experience with “Men” that I admired more than I could admonish. As directing styles go, Garland even enters the realm of Kubrick-like lingering visuals before concluding with creature effects straight out of the strangest David Cronenberg film. Suffice it to say, the tone of terror Garland creates stays with you long after you leave the theater. Admittedly not for everyone, “Men’s” got a reasonable runtime of 100 minutes and features really good performances from Buckley and Kinnear. For enthusiasts who appreciate film as a visual medium, it’s definitely worth the watch.