Men follows a woman who seeks healing in a reclusive village in the countryside following the sudden death of her soon-to-be ex-husband. As a man appears to be stalking her from the woods, dread begins to fill her thoughts. The inhabitants of the town are not as they appear.
[This movie was seen in theaters at the time of this review.]
In general, I am not a fan of films with such heavy styling and thick symbolism that they fall into ambiguity. As is the case with any arthouse film, I have to admit fault in my own intellect at my failure to grasp the film, but, if it is merely the fact I am too stupid, then perhaps it is the film's reminder of such realities that I find offensive. Either way, I find the oversaturation of nuance and ambiguity as it pertains to the structure of the plot to be frustrating. In the case of Men, I found myself frustrated, but in an engaging way. I can't stop thinking about it, even if I become angry at the film's twists and turns that dismiss the logic I was trying to build for it.
It's funny. I praise nuance in the messaging of films. Trust your audience, we can pick up on metaphors. We don't need to have a message thrown in our face. Yet, the nuance in Men is fantastically executed in regards to its messaging, but the dam of symbolism springs a leak and it floods the structure of the plot, at least for my simple mind. It isn't necessarily a fault in the movie, as its artistic direction was something to behold, but it inevitably left me begging for more understanding, which perhaps a second viewing can provide.
Regardless, I stepped away from Men extremely impressed with the movie. It is beautifully shot from its idyllic village stone to its lush forests of green, juxtaposed against flashbacks of a reds-saturated scene depicting a couple's relationship shattering at the hands of toxic behavior from the male counterpart. This catalyst of course bleeds through the whole film to a crescendo, with a build of unparalleled atmospheric dread that persists in a gradual incline with every scene. The acting, from Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear, is immersive and impressive. And director Alex Garland is at his best, even if my opinions feel his artistic license went too far.
The film's messaging is clear perhaps in the title itself. A horror movie titled Men? I wonder what it's about. But, of course, it's not about the evil of men, but the evil that men can be. Toxic masculinity is a real issue that we've seen examined of late, and also explored in film. Men does a great job of putting this on display, with numerous scenes imposing the feeling of dread a woman may experience alone with a threatening or unsettling man, as well as the feelings of degradation and isolation impressed by subtle (or not-so subtle) behavior or language. But not only this, it also shows the weakness in this behavior and the strength to fight these toxic mentalities, rituals, and habits.
So, we've broken down all the great bits...and they are plenty...But back to the oversaturated (in my opinion) nuance of the whole thing...At some point in the movie, perhaps about a third of the way through, I decided what I wanted this movie, on its surface, to be about. The pervasive ambiguity (again, in my opinion) left a great deal of room for interpretation of the plot, while managing to leave its message intact. So, with that, I was able to absorb the message, but establish what I wanted the plot to be in my own mind. And I had a lot more "fun" than if I hadn't. So...I decided upon a key element of the film as a reality within its fictional world, and it made it more enjoyable for me. Allow me to dive in, but put a strong spoiler warning ahead of it.
As mentioned above, I decided to interpret the film's plot in a certain way, because I found it more fascinating and engaging to do so. There is a bit of ambiguity (or a lot, depending on your perspective) surrounding what exactly is happening. Is the action happening entirely within the mind of the protagonist? Is the entirety of the film supposed to be accepting as an artistic metaphor? Or is the antagonist a physical/metaphysical entity that works as a manifestation for the message and character progression of our lead? Of course, I generally find the tangible to be the most fascinating, so I committed to the latter interpretation, seeing the villain as some kind of..."interdimensional being", similar to IT, feeding off of her fear and guilt. While it takes some stretching to make this narrative fit, it makes many elements of the film quite interesting, especially for fans of "monsters" as I am. To see it as this nasty being that feeds off of her in a supernatural way, yet interacts in a physical manner is frightening and intriguing, exacerbated by the body horror that pervades the final act. It may be the "wrong" way to interpret the structure of the villain, but it made the film more entertaining for me!
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 9/10
Horror Quality: 8/10
Film Quality: 8/10