DEMENTED AND DEMYSTIFIED: MEN REVIEW
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
With posters featuring a menacing face buried in shadows, Alex Garland’s Men reveals itself to be just as mysteriously tormenting as it promises. Like Annihilation and Ex-Machina, Garland pulls double duty here as writer and director. On display are both the strengths and limitations of having a man pen his own portrayal of toxic masculinity. Men poses the question: was the Garden of Eden just a trap?
Morbid nuance and religious imagery devour fill every devastatingly gorgeous frame. Rob Hardy’s cinematography and Mark Digby’s production design illustrate a grounded reality that eases into the supernatural. Matching its vibrance is the film’s score and sound design, piercing through tragedy and the fantastical. If Men came with trigger warnings, the list would scroll like credits. Such is an effect of the movie’s ambition. Jessie Buckley nimbly carries emotional weight as Harper, a woman attempting to heal when her experience is terrorized by…you guessed it: men. Paapa Essiedu holds firm on his short screen time as the center of Buckley’s trauma. Rory Kinnear is literally a man of many faces in this nightmare scenario, playing almost every male character. Buckley’s clash with every iteration of Kinnear warns that all men pose the same threat.
Police are depicted truthfully in Men. Buckley’s Harper realizes that even a woman police officer is ultimately a tool of patriarchal malevolence. Another poignant moment occurs during Harper’s confrontation with a vicar who villainizes her body. Garland’s ambiguity proves purposeful yet a double-edged sword of sorts. While achieving diverse interpretations, vague subtext also allows for problematic dichotomizing. When a teen disguised in a woman's mask is quick to curse at Harper, it’s hard not to wonder if there’s an underlying current of TERF-like transphobia at play. Vanity Fair was among the outlets noticing a “tinge” of Men feeling “gender critical.”
Horror audiences will devour Garland’s masterful gore. He depicts similar violence in entirely separate tones. Once in tragedy and then again in titillating shock. However, the body horror most central to Men is a grossly effective birthing scene symbolizing generations of toxicity breeding itself. The irony of men crying to a woman over birth is surely not lost. These characters all bear the same wound, representing generational blame against women in the tradition of original sin.
A dandelion weed that easily spreads and plants itself is a brilliant analogy for toxic masculinity. Garland’s portrait of the male threat is enjoyably demented despite feeling underdeveloped at times. Regardless, the conversations around Men have fruitful potential in a time when men in power are legislating against all women. Queer women. Trans women. Women with uteruses. Oh girl, we’re plucking weeds tonight.