Review by Nicholas Porteous for Mr. Will Wong
In the wake of her husband’s horrific death, Harper (Academy Award nominee Jessie Buckley) drives to a quiet cottage in the middle of the British countryside for some rest and relaxation, but instead of peace–she finds MEN! Entering the glorious garden, she plucks an apple from a tree and takes a juicy bite as a man disapprovingly watches her from afar. If the biblical parallel wasn’t obvious enough, Rory Kinnear–who plays 90% of the men on screen–shows up to mansplain it in the following scene. Harper‘s haunting past reverberates throughout her supposed vacation, manifesting in flourishes of male-driven abuse that compound and cascade into a nightmarish climax.
Alex Garland dives deep into the agony of misogyny via a classic Horror framework: in virtually every scene he is implicitly asking us to question how much of Harper’s experience is real and how much of it is her invention. In a time where we are culturally reassessing sexist attitudes towards to female victimhood, this is a fundamentally terrible approach. Well-intentioned perhaps–he is forcing the audience into the mind of the victim–but wrongheaded. Recently, The Last Duel handled similar themes of ambiguity surrounding abuse and assault, but in an impassioned manner–and with a female Writer–that took a clear and much needed stance on how men assign blame and maintain a culture of fear in the name of silencing victims.
Cultural context aside, I have to take issue with the dream logic of Garland’s world here as well. Sometimes Harper reacts to ghastly imagery with terror, and sometimes she seems to understand it as a projection. She questions a strange flicker on her phone, but never the plethora of Rory Kinnears around every corner. It’s frustratingly inconsistent, which could work as a feature of dream logic, but here comes off wishy washy and convenient. And unlike other dream logic movies in a similar vein, there’s never a payoff that weaves the seemingly disparate threads together into something more coherent.
Jessie Buckley is undeniably captivating, and Rory Kinnear rises to a considerable challenge–differentiating those many men. Garland’s visuals are so gorgeous and grotesque in and of themselves that they nearly sustain the movie on their own, but the foggy nature of the writing drags everything down with it. I will say that if you loved I’m Thinking of Ending Things, also starring Buckley, this is a similar movie and might be for you. But it isn’t for this guy.
VVS Films release MEN in theatres May 20, 2022.