MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Folk Horror/ Stars: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, Gayle Rankin/Runtime: 100 minutes
I think it can easily be said that if you really take the time to dive into and then really ponder the first two slices of cinema that he was at the helm of, you will discover that whilst helmer/scribe Alex Garland did in fact sculpt and mold a pair of distinct slices of cinema that at their core do operate primarily within the realm of sci-fi, there is also a fair bit of terror to be found amidst the reasons for why both films ultimately turn out to be as brilliant as they are. For example the narrative found in Ex Machina from 2015 may put an emphasis on ponderings involving the topic of artificial intelligence and its place on our planet, but the mood is one that is very much propelled forward by the horror that can come about as a result of seclusion, paranoia, and deceit of the highest order. 2018’s Annihilation on the other hand may showcase a government team’s investigation of a distinct and quite topsy-turvy landscape brought on by an alien organism from another world deciding to crash land on our planet, but a lot of the more iconic moments from the film itself are completely and utterly terrifying in regards to both how the landscape and its animal occupants have been terrifyingly altered to say nothing of the changes that begin to occur to our team the further in that they go. Suffice it to say that for his third slice of cinema that he has chosen to take the reins of, 2022’s Men, we see that Mr. Garland has decided to approach it from a completely different perspective. Namely that gone is the bleak reality that is shown and presented to us quite heavily in the first two films and in its place is not only a more thorough acceptance of the more out there and supernatural elements, but also the creative choice to have you, the movie goer take on a terror that is a lot more precise and on-point than perhaps dealt with in the other cinematic endeavors. Thankfully, we see that in the process Garland also made the wonderful choice to not throw on the proverbial cinematic bonfire the truly delightful creativity let alone ingenuity that he manages to possess as a narrative regaler since this slice of cinema does manage to be quite the intelligent and fairly multilayered fable that is designed to take a much closer look at the bonds between gender that exist in the world around us on a daily basis. Suffice it to say that it should be said that Men sadly might not be seen by many as being as terrific or even as riveting as a lot of the previous work that Garland has gifted us with either as a helmer or as a scribe. At the same time however, there is no denying that the slice of cinema that is Men is one possessing of not only two downright fantastic performances, but also proves to be a truly distinct and twistedly delightful bit of cinematic fare right down to an ending that will drop your jaw and leave you wanting to see it all over again the minute that the screen cuts to black and the credits begin to roll…
The plot is as follows: Now much in the same vein as his other two directorial efforts, the slice of cinema that is Men is its film helmer’s third cinematic outing that makes the choice to have its protagonist head out of the nearest big city and go out into the wonderful world of nature or into just plain solitude for a variety of different reasons. In the case of this film, that would be a young woman by the name of Harper who, when our slice of cinema gets underway, has decided to embark on an odyssey of sorts to rest and recuperate in the countryside of England for a couple of weeks in the calamitous aftermath of both the crumbling away of her marriage as well as a severe misfortune that her soon to be former significant other James was part of…..somehow. We soon see that our heroine makes the choice to rent a truly beautiful and long-standing cottage complete with apple tree out in front from a seemingly affable as well as slightly fashionable gentleman by the name of Geoffrey and thus begins to try and heal from the fresh psychological wounds that have been inflicted upon her. We soon see things take a seemingly frightening turn however when whilst out for a stroll one day just taking in the sights and sounds of nature, our heroine makes her way to a vast tunnel where she unfortunately is seen by a beast-like man completely in his birthday suit if you get my drift. Yet while she is swift in getting the heck out of there, the man still follows her back to where she is staying and promptly tries to get at her courtesy of the mail slot on the house. Fortunately she is able to evade the man and get in touch with the local authorities who swiftly show up and take the man away. Yet while in many stories this chain of events would seem to be the conclusion of the terror that is afoot I feel you should know that is most assuredly not the case here. Not by a long shot. Suffice it to say that for a story like this the circumstances that I just told you about are very much the beginning of a series of events that, by the end of them, will not only test the strength of your psyche, but will most likely shake you, just as much as our heroine, very much to the core of your being and back….
Now right off the bat I guess I should tell you that while yes there is something that Alex Garland is wanting very much to convey with this slice of cinema I do very much appreciate how he doesn’t try to cram it in your face at seemingly every given opportunity. Indeed in this seemingly otherworldly locale where every guy seems to rock the exact same face (dimples and all), it is symbolism that is lord of this slice of cinema’s sense of style and the fact that it is never overwhelming is perhaps the biggest positive that this film has going for it. Yes there are moments where it is fairly low key and yes there are moments that are significantly more crystal clear, but regardless every single moment manages to contribute wonderfully both to the message the film is trying to convey and the thematic concepts which it is operating with. Indeed this really is a slice of cinema that gives off the vibe of being complexly constructed which, as a result, really does provide this slice of cinema with the distinct vibe that the filmmakers are wanting this to be one that you have to rewatch. Not only so you can better immerse yourself in the world of the film and all the little details, but also so you can garner a better respect for how they construct this world based off the message the film is trying to convey. Indeed if there is any weakness to this slice of cinema it would have to be in regards to the implementation of the tempo that this slice of cinema’s operating with since it sadly doesn’t seem to possess the fantastic franticness on display in Garland’s prior directorial efforts. Yes it would be quite erroneous to see this slice of cinema’s structure as messy in any way, but at the same time there is no denying that on some level it isn’t structured quite as well as his last two movies. As a result the film does always seem to lure you in quite as well as those films, but at least it does manage to be quite satisfactory with a conclusion that is both riveting and insane in the best ways possible.
We also see that a further apology for that slight misstep in tempo is given to us by the dynamic acting duo of Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear who in this slice of cinema manage to provide us with a pair of truly phenomenal performances. In regards to the former we see that with this and her lead performance in 2020’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Miss Buckley does appear to have located a wonderful avenue for her acting talents courtesy of quite bizarre slices of cinema and it definitely shows in this film as she manages to do a wonderful job of being your guide through the ever-increasing terror on display. Not only that, but Buckley does an equally as great job at making her heroine’s mental anguish in the aftermath of what occurred with her ex-husband is very much apparent whilst also showing she is an immensely skilled horror actress in the moments in the third act where she not only has to respond to the terror, but also combat it as well. Now in regards to the latter, it should be noted that Rory Kinnear is assigned quite the challenge performance-wise in this slice of cinema courtesy of having to portray at least eight to ten distinct parts. Yet even with that in mind, Kinnear manages to do absolutely phenomenal here at not only conjuring up eight to ten distinct personalities for all of these parts, but for being as wonderfully unnerving as possible. However even though Kinnear does prove to be quite the perilous and terrifying menace as the beast-like creep that stalks our heroine, I am of the firm belief that his finest moments in this slice of cinema are in his turn as the town priest who has a scene in this that may start out fairly innocuous, but by the end will leave you with shivers down your spine. It should also be said that Kinnear does warrant a fairly significant amount of praise for the astonishing as well as daring things he engages in through the course of this slice of cinema’s third act. At the same time though, I don’t think I’ll go into any further detail on those things. Instead, I’ll only say that those are things that you will just have to see for yourself.
All in all and at the end of the day dear reader, I think it can quite easily be said that Alex Garland has managed to time and time again show that he is not only one of the most brilliant, but also the most riveting film helmers to keep an eye on in the current landscape of the world of movie magic. Indeed I know that no matter what I always find myself getting excited whenever I hear that he is working on something new to the point that I will always be there opening night (or afternoon as may be the case) to support his work. With that in mind, it should be said that while the 2022 slice of cinema that is Men might not be the most riveting slice of cinema that Garland has helmed so far, it is still nevertheless a slice of cinema that makes for a rather intriguing addition to the man’s slowly, but surely expanding filmography. Yes this film may have its fair share of flaws, but it also does have terrific work from a fantastic quartet of actors (with particular regard to the work done by Jessie Buckley and especially Rory Kinnear) and it does manage to propel forward Garland’s immense talent for giving us slices of cinema that are phenomenal both as works of art and as riveting stories that will leave you to some degree on the edge of your seat. Suffice it to say that it is thanks to these elements, to say nothing of a conclusion that is both jaw-dropping and fairly outlandish let alone weird in equal measure that I am confident that this slice of cinema most assuredly is going to be watched, rewatched, and analyzed frame by frame by both the most passionate film scholar and the most casual movie goer for a long, long time to come. Make of that therefore what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Men “2022” a solid 3.5 out of 5.