The last ten minutes of Men are among the craziest I've ever seen in a movie. Director Alex Garland (Annihilation) starts his story off by creating an eerie, ominous atmosphere, then ends it by venturing into full-on body horror. Such a shift could have felt disjointed, except that Garland knows exactly where he's going and what he's doing. That insane finale pays off themes that have been carefully set up, resulting in a film that sends you away delightfully dazed and more than a bit unsettled.
Harper (Jessie Buckley) has rented out a lovely old home in the English countryside. She's done this in order to deal with the pain of her split from husband James (Paapa Essiedu) and the tragic repercussions of that split. The owner, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), is an awkward guy who immediately makes Harper's skin crawl. Once he leaves, she settles in, then goes for a walk out in the woods, where she stumbles across an old tunnel that has beautiful reverberation when she sings into it. The whole location seems idyllic.
It's not, though. Harper encounters a series of men who trouble her. There's a naked guy who peeks in her windows, a cop who doesn't seem interested in helping her, a kid with an attitude problem, and a remarkably uncharitable vicar. All of these men have something in common. To tell you what that is would be to reveal one of Men's best surprises, but once you figure it out, the movie's fascination level kicks up a notch or two. With those pieces in place, the plot proceeds to track Harper's efforts to determine what's going on. Those crazy final ten minutes provide an answer in shocking fashion.
The turn Men takes makes perfect sense. The first 45 minutes masterfully create an ominous vibe. Garland makes excellent use of countryside locations, suggesting something sinister lurking amid the lush greens of the grass and trees. As the male characters are introduced, our feelings of unease grow right along with Harper's. The film creates a jittery sensation in this section, especially once you make the connection between the guys she crosses paths with. Not knowing why they seem intent on freaking her out works on your nerves. Then, during the finale, it all explodes, descending into outright madness.
I don't want to tell you what happens in Men. The important thing to know is that Garland is interested in exploring ideas related to grief and guilt. And beyond that, there's a parallel theme about the way dysfunctional men attempt to make women accept responsibility for their own issues via gaslighting, guilt-tripping, and other means. As the story winds to its graphic conclusion, those themes click powerfully into place, revealing the totality of what Harper has gone through. Viewers with a low tolerance for gross-out effects might be a little put off. Everyone else will appreciate the way the movie replicates the ugliness of the male behavior with the ickiness of the visuals.
As always, Jessie Buckley is phenomenal. The actress uses her natural expressiveness to portray the collision of emotions inside of Harper. She is matched by Rory Kinnear, who tackles a multi-layered role and hits every single layer just right. Both actors take material that's intentionally challenging and maximize its impact. Men is the best kind of horror – smart, substantive, impactful, and unrelentingly creepy.
out of four
Men is rated R for disturbing and violent content, graphic nudity, grisly images, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.