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"MEN"
(2022) (Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: Following her husband's death, a woman sets off for some self-care isolation, but must contend with an unsettling array of men.
PLOT:

Harper Marlow (JESSIE BUCKLEY) sets off for some self-care isolation at a remote, 500-year-old house in the English countryside. She needs these two weeks to get over the death of her husband, James (PAAPA ESSIEDU), who either jumped or fell off their building amid their marriage unraveling and Harper wanting a divorce.

She arrives at the estate and is met by the rental owner, Geoffrey (RORY KINNEAR), who gives her the low-down about staying at the place, and then lets her be, with Harper's only plan for human contact being occasional video chats with her friend, Riley (GAYLE RANKIN).

But while out on a walk through the nearby forest, she encounters a fully nude man who then shows up at her place. What follows is an array of unsettling encounters with other men, all as she tries to cope with her recent loss.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10

If you've made enough laps around the sun, no doubt you've had your share of encounters with people who've done you wrong in one way or another. As a man closing in on sixty, though, I imagine I haven't had to contend with a fraction of what most every woman in the world has endured, more often than not at the hands of male figures.

Yes, women have come a long way but regardless of being rich or poor, world-famous or known to only a few, they've had to deal with men who've abused them in some fashion, be that physical, psychological, or even sociological. Assuming I'm reading things correctly, that's definitely the thematic point of filmmaker Alex Garland's latest work, the simply but symbolically titled "Men."

Working from his own script -- as he did with previous efforts including "Annihilation" and "Ex Machina" -- Garland places this offering squarely in the horror genre and delivers the frights and general unease in spades. All while doused with heady thematic elements about the female experience in what's still -- as James Brown once sang -- a man's world.

The woman in question here is Harper Marlow (Jessie Buckley) whose husband (Paapa Essiedu) had a bad encounter with a fence after falling -- accidentally or intentionally -- from their building following the unraveling of their marriage.

Harper is hoping to get away from it all -- and everyone in her life save for the occasional video chat with her best friend (Gayle Rankin) -- for some isolated self-care in a 500-year-old manor in the English countryside.

After a brief tour and summary of the place by the owner (Rory Kinnear) who chastises (but then says he was only joking, but was he) about her taking a bite from an apple (holy Biblical symbolism, Batman), Harper sets out to explore the environs on her own. Deep in the woods, she ends up in a long and dark tunnel that she playfully uses as an echo chamber in creating a wonderfully haunting aural cascade of her harmonies.

But then in yet another bit of symbolism, what's beautiful ends up turned on its ugly head when a distant male figure stands in the tunnel and starts heading her way, frightening her. She takes off, misses her return point, and ends up by an old, dilapidated farm where she encounters a fully naked man (also played by Kinnear in what's the beginning of a succession inhabiting the other main male figures to follow) who then follows her back to her rental manor.

As she deals with that and subsequent encounters with other men, she also experiences a range of emotions related to her late husband, and Garland injects occasional flashbacks to the moments leading up to the fateful fall. That continues the thematic elements, all of which come to a head -- and a heady and way over the top one -- as the third act draws closer to its horrific conclusion.

That graphic sequence might be too outlandish for many viewers, but I found that it thematically completed the unflinching, disturbing, haunting, and yes, often quite scary look at the female experience in what's still a male-dominated world. You might not look at men quite the same way after seeing it, although if you have the stomach and patience for what the filmmaker is after, "Men" is an experience that will stick with you for some time. It rates as a 7.5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 3, 2022 / Posted May 20, 2022


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