Written and Directed by Alex Garland
Starring Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, Gayle Rankin
Men is one of the most intense experiences this viewer has had in a theater since A Quiet Place. The intensity comes from a completely different place, but it leaves – or perhaps reveals a dark spot on the heart of man that has been shifted unfairly to their Biblical counterpart.
The story starts with Harper Marlowe (Buckley), a recently widowed woman renting a 500 year old house for a two week holiday in the small village of Coston, England. We see glimpses of the what lead to her losing her husband, but it’s pretty plain James Marlowe (Essiedu) had enough problems for the both of them. Still, his passing is a remarkably vivid and tragic moment that she hasn’t even come close to overcoming by the time she gets to the house.
The owner of the house, Geoffrey (Kinnear) is awkward, but seems nice enough. His jokes land with a thud while he dispenses information about the home and the town.
“The pub is a ten minute walk there…and a thirty minute walk back,” he says through a grin that reveals his awful teeth and a begnin sense of humor.
Harper is more distracted by her thoughts than amused by anything at the point. After speaking with her sister Riley (Rankin) she goes for a walk. The walk is uneventful until she comes across a tunnel in the middle of the woods. She wanders in, then discovers a fun game she plays with her echoing voice. This scene on its own is uniquely fascinating, up to the point when something moves at the end of the tunnel then begins to pursue her. From this point, the film is a non-stop building of dread.
The amazing point to Men is how Garland’s direction and writing, married with the performances of Buckley and Kinnear work to live up to the implication of its title. If Garland wants to present the definition of one half of the human species, he does so with such an incredibly accurate metaphor, it’s tough to deny the truth of it all.
The last third of the film feels like the film Ordinary People as directed by Terrance Malick. Aside from some overuse of CGI, the feeling of the film is right in line with the implications of its title. Even so, there is not one wasted scene, or even a questionable camera angle. The effectiveness of a film like this is it even has this viewer questioning the nature of his relationship with his own wife.
Is there a partnership there, or is it a threat?
(****1/2 out of *****)