Men (2022)

The Green Man personified
The Green Man personified

Harper (Jessie Buckley) rents an isolated country house so that she can spend some time alone to process the sense of guilt she is feeling after the suicide of her husband, who she was in the middle of divorcing when he fell/jumped from a balcony to his death.

Harper goes for a walk
Harper goes for a walk
Jessie Buckley is great in the central role
Jessie Buckley is great in the central role

After meeting the nice-but-dim landlord Geoffrey, Harper finds herself encountering a series of odd males (all played well by the same actor, Rory Kinnear), who range from a menacing, naked man in the local woods, a creepy kid that wants to play hide & seek, and a weird local vicar. Events escalate, with Harper compelled to stab an intruder’s arm that pushes through the mail slot of her door, after which she helplessly watches as the intruder slowly withdraws his arm, causing the transfixed blade to gorily slice his forearm and hand in two. This distinctive wound mirrors an injury suffered by her dead husband (seen in one of many flashbacks), and soon Harper is hassled by the various male characters again, who all now have this same, unpleasant bisected arm injury. From here matters become much, much more strange and grotesque…

A naked stalker lurks at the window
A naked stalker lurks at the window
The CGI used to put Kinnear's face on a boy's body doesn't provide super-realistic results, but the overall effect is quite creepy
The CGI used to put Kinnear’s face on a boy’s body doesn’t provide super-realistic results, but the overall effect is quite creepy

MEN, written and directed by Alex Garland, would seem to be a psychological horror story, detailing the mental breakdown of the guilt-ridden protagonist, yet much of what happens is definitely not in the heroine’s mind, as there really is a naked stalker who is arrested by the local police, and Harper’s friend, at the end of the movie, does see actual blood-smears in the doorway and also walks past the wrecked Ford we saw a character crash the previous night. So, is Garland suggesting these incidents, including an outlandish body-horror tour de force sequence, can be regarded as actually having really happened?

Poster
Poster

The film is peppered with folk horror elements: there’s a Green Man sculpture on the nearby church’s font, the naked stalker starts to cut himself and insert leaves into his face, and he finally appears as a full-on Green Man. When Harper is menaced by the vicar in her home, she asks him ‘what’ he is, and he replies that he’s ‘a swan’, a reference to the Greek myth ‘Leda and the Swan’, where Zeus, in the shape of a swan, seduces/rapes Leda. So could Garland be inferring that some kind of local pagan deity has latched onto Harper and is pursuing her in a series of masculine guises, so all of the batshit-crazy stuff we witness during the finale is ‘real’?

The Green Man sculpture on the church font
The Green Man sculpture on the church font

It’s hard to glean exactly what message Garland is trying to get across, because he wilfully keeps things obscure and unexplained, whilst also showering the film with symbolism (apples = Garden of Eden), musings on different kinds of toxic masculinity (men blaming women for the sexual urges they are feeling, men hitting women, men trying to guilt-trip women, etc), shots of a dead, eyeless deer, and the aforementioned body-horror imagery that sees the Green Man trigger a prolonged, bizarre ‘birthing’ sequence, involving adult males manifesting distended bellies and vaginas, from which other males are born.

The naked dude starts slitting his skin and inserting leaves...
The naked dude starts slitting his skin and inserting leaves…
...and he finally appears as an 'actual' Green Man
…and he finally appears as an ‘actual’ Green Man
The multi-male-birth scene begins...
The bizarro birthing sequence begins…
...and it becomes a full-on body-horror set-piece...
…and it becomes a full-on body-horror set-piece…
...and we get to see some pretty out-there visuals
…and we get to see some pretty out-there visuals

MEN leaves too many questions unanswered: why doesn’t Harper notice that every male in the village has pretty much the same face? If her submerged guilt surrounding her husband’s death is so profound, why isn’t it his face she sees everywhere, rather than Kinnear’s visage?

Kinnear as the creepy, woman-blaming vicar
Kinnear as the creepy, woman-blaming vicar

Criticisms aside, this initially slow-burn film is unique, is well-acted, gorgeous to look at and boasts a wonderful, striking soundtrack that utilises a choir to infuse the proceedings with an unsettling vibe.

The movie’s bucolic English setting, with its shots of country churches and hints of some ancient presence, gives MEN the veneer of a M.R. James story in places, and some of Kinnear’s makeups recall the humorously grotesque visuals of the comedy-horror sitcom THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, though these influences are incidental and take a backseat to Garland’s own style of storytelling.

Harper standing amongst the symbolic apples
Harper standing amongst the symbolic apples

MEN, ultimately, is a muddled-yet-memorable combination of British folk horror and psychological drama, with musings on male toxicity added to the mix.

It does become rather deranged...
It does become rather deranged…

2 thoughts on “Men (2022)

  1. The movie is wilfully obscure in that it never really explains itself, but there’s a lot to like about it, especially the striking soundtrack.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: