Men, 2022, Written and Directed by Alex Garland
Alex Garland’s brand new film, Men, released May 20, 2022, is a beautiful and terrifying masterpiece, unique in its hard-hitting themes and shocking imagery. Viewers are introduced to Harper (Jessie Buckley), a woman vacationing alone in a beautiful, rented country home in a small English village, Coston. Through flashbacks, it is revealed that Harper is recovering from the recent suicide of her husband, James (Paapa Essiedu). We learn that James had repeatedly threatened to kill himself after Harper told him she wanted to get a divorce. In their marriage, James was hostile and manipulative, and now Harper is reeling from the weight of his death; haunted by the guilt that he forces her to carry from beyond the grave.
When Harper arrives at the house, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), the supposed owner of the estate, gives her a tour. Geoffrey, though very friendly, seems a rather strange man, making awkward jokes that don’t quite land. Even so, Harper’s new, short-term home is beautiful, and after settling in, she goes for a walk in the nearby woods. The scenery is unbelievably gorgeous, with sunlit leaves highlighting every shot with a supernatural kind of green. The nature in the woods seems to fill Harper with so much joy, and rightfully so; I was also in awe, watching the scene with a smile mirroring Harper’s.
Harper happens upon a long, dark tunnel, in which she enjoys singing out and playing with the echo that comes back to her. After some time of this, she abruptly notices a silhouetted figure at the other end of the tunnel. The figure starts moving, and then appears to be running toward her. The amount of dread that Garland is able to induce right from the start of the film, while only showing small moments of eeriness, is highly impressive. From the very beginning, we are able to guess that Harper’s whole vacation was a very bad idea. The atmosphere feels off—despite the beautiful scenery.
Harper grows convinced she is being stalked, and she talks to her friend, Riley (Gayle Rankin), on the phone, confiding in her, though service is bad at the house—cutting out at the worst moments. Riley agrees to drive out to see Harper so her friend doesn’t feel so alone, but has trouble getting the right address due to the bad internet. Things get scarier and scarier as Harper somehow seems more and more alone with every new person (well, every new man) she meets.
Garland’s Men feels a little bit like a very bad dream. Buckley plays Harper with a deep empathy for the fictional character, and an understanding of how it must feel to endure the trials presented to her in the film. Horror movies are often criticized for being unrealistic in the way their characters tend to react to things (i.e. the classic: “Hello? Who’s there?” after hearing a creepy sound coming from a dark room), but Harper, as a protagonist, stands out because she often reacts to the events of the film in a way that a real person might react if these things were actually happening to them. Rory Kinnear plays every male character in the film, aside from James—Harper’s late-husband. This eerie and confusing resemblance between the characters, culminates in a horrific climax, shocking to everyone watching. Garland followed his imagination, and went all the way with it—and, bear in mind, his going “all the way” is certainly going too far for many people; but beautiful and creative to others.
Men explores how isolating it can feel to be a woman, bombarded by the expectations, presumptions, and entitlement of men. Seeing this film in the theater was an experience that I’d highly recommend to anyone who loves horror. Men (2022)—out now in theaters! Currently 73% on Rotten Tomatoes.