Dir. Alex Garland
Reviewer. Martyn Wakefield
Not the prequel to 2 AND A HALF MEN but the latest offering from science fiction maestro Alex Garland. If you've seen the trailer you know this is mad but nothing can prepare you for the insanity that MEN has to offer.
Like other releases in 2022, MEN is an entrancing movie that invites you with a tense scenario, a woman surviving her husband's suicide heads for a retreat in middle England only to see that every male looks a spitting image of Rory Kinear. It's a mind field that asks more questions but is no less a terrifying journey to its destination.
The unfortunate thing though, is that this trip gets so close to the end and then details into a grotesque and horrifying mess that is ugly and frankly, bewildering. Much like ANNIHILATION, Garland gives us a hook and in the final stretch throws a curve ball that asks more questions and answers those that weren't even asked but while Garland's previous film worked with it's ambiguous MacGuffin, MEN provides clear reference that these events are real, begging the question... WHAT THE FUCK DID I JUST WATCH?
There's plenty of metaphysical imagery and it's clear the message here is more akin to MOTHER! than the folk horror path it treads but those messages are laboured so hard, it's difficult to feel that this is more of a megaphone than a piece of art.
When it's symbolism of biblical proportion it works well - the eating of an apple, the creation of man in "His" own image, the evil of man all come across like a punch in the face by Tyson Fury and it explains some of the films more bizarre moments but when the film flits between that and the relationship with her ex-Husband, an individual incident, it falls flat leaving the final reveal both predictable yet still a dumb watering down from the themes expressed. the trope that all men are bad, could have been portrayed if Harper's relationship with men was universally of this kind, even that of a more controlled relationship with her Husband but what is portrayed here is an uneasy yet handled relationship allowing Harper to talk with her partner let alone to simply not just leave. Evidentially all of the micro and macro aggressions of her relationship are expressed through each of Kinear's men, but there are three strands of storytelling here and the message of MEN is never quite clear enough to understand what it's trying to say, as each one a conflicting view of trauma and control.
For the most part, MEN is a tense escape that gives us great performances from Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinear, saved fortunately but the mystery and graphic nature of a film that doesn't stray from its horror roots. The cinematography is a treat and at least there is a takeaway that while it's inhabitants are monsters, the locations of middle England (Cheltenham in this case) are beautiful.