REVIEW: Alex Garland’s “Men” is ambitious but frustrating

I have a feeling this film will have some guys shouting “not all men!”

This film from director Alex Garland from the company A24 stars Jessie Buckley as Harper, a woman who’s gone to stay at a cottage in the country after a personal tragedy. The rental is in a nice enough small town and all seems well, but issues with her past continue to trouble her.

It’s made only worse as she has to deal with some rather bothersome figures in town, from a prying priest to a creepy schoolboy. These men only make her mental state worse.

“Men” is a frustrating film to watch, because there’s a lot of strong aspects in the picture, and yet some of the execution ends up detracting from the overall experience. It’s a well crafted movie, there’s no doubt about it, but the path it ultimately goes down is one that’s tough to take.

Garland’s “Ex Machina” was on my Top 10 list for 2015 and on my Best Sci-Fi Films of the 2010s. He’s a talented filmmaker and in complete fairness, he shows his creative talent with this movie, too.

“Men,” which Garland also wrote, succeeds in exploring the existence of toxic masculinity and how it’s rooted in many institutions, from religion to law enforcement.

As the film goes on, the various ways toxic masculinity exists comes together in sort of an amalgamation. The film doing this is both a strength and a weakness.

In a way, it shows the collective issues women have to deal with when it comes to men. Yet the portrayal of this is a detriment.

Men2022Blog
Courtesy A24.

The latter half of “Men” is extremely surreal, with graphic, bloody visuals and metaphorical imagery. Ultimately, what begins as intriguing, thought provoking moments on screen soon become excessive and repetitive.

There’s a point in the last 20 minutes or so where it makes one think, ‘Okay, we get it.’ It’s not that the gory imagery is too much in that it’s offensive, but rather that it feels like it’s going for a bizarre macabre look more for shock-value instead of having it really connect with the characters.

It gets to a point where things are so surreal that it feels like Harper’s grief, trauma and healing process are almost forgotten in place of showing outlandish, grotesque imagery. One wishes it was more like another Jessie Buckley film, 2020’s “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.”

When that movie concludes and everything is revealed, the surreal elements all feel like they paid off. With “Men,” though, the surreal aspects seem more like there was a weird horror quota to reach.

It’s a shame because Buckley and the rest of the cast are really superb. Performance-wise, the cast is spot on. The same can be said for the technical aspects, with the film looking and sounding good.

“Men” will definitely be a divisive film, because one’s mileage with this picture will depend on how they interpret the themes and how they appreciate the more surreal elements.

To an extent, I can recommend the movie on its artistic merits, because it is well made. Yet in terms of what I walked away with, I can’t put my full support behind it. 2.75 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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