Alex Garland’s Men

Jessie Buckley in Alex Garland’s Men (2022)

Opening in theaters next weekend and screening at Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, Men, directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation) and starring Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear, has so far been met with mixed reviews. At the Film Stage, Jordan Raup finds Men to be “delightfully inscrutable in its strangest moments yet thematically simplistic and disappointingly misshapen on the whole.” But for the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin, Garland’s “astonishing first project since his 2020 miniseries Devs is a bloodcurdling modern-day folktale, in which male manipulation of women—belittling asides, emotional blackmail, disingenuous grasps for victim status, and so on—are painted not as discrete slights, but connected gestures in an obscene, aeons-old ritual.”

Having seen her husband (Paapa Essiedu) fall to his death, Harper (Buckley) arrives at a grand old house in rural England to spend some time alone and gather. In the woods, she spots a naked man that some critics have suggested is a contemporary echo of the Green Man, a leafy, twiggy mythological figure associated with the renewal of spring. This one, though, is a vaguely threatening stalker. Just as disconcerting, the groundskeeper and nearly everyone in the village—the vicar, the rude regulars at the local pub, and even a little boy—are played by Kinnear.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw contends that audiences are “entitled to ask: why doesn’t Harper notice or comment on the fact that they all look exactly alike? Is it because, numbed by grief, she doesn’t see it?” And IndieWire’s David Ehrlich has more questions: “Are men all the same, or do they just look that way squeezed through the pinhole of one person’s experience? Are they trying to make Harper into a vessel for their pain, or are they hoping that she might fill their own emptiness? Will this movie inspire anything more than an endless litany of rhetorical questions and a Saturn Award nomination for Best Special Effects?”

For Jordan Hoffman at the A.V. Club, Men is “something of a deranged masterpiece,” and he suggests approaching the film “as if it were modal jazz: it isn’t so much about a hummable melody as it is about tone, color, mood, and the thrill of unexpected exploration within a set framework.” The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney credits the overall “menacing and viscerally creepy” vibe “in no small part to the visuals of the director’s regular DP, Rob Hardy, with stately compositions steadily giving way to lurching chaos. Of equal importance is the enveloping sound design of Glenn Freemantle, a diabolical aural assault that mixes a natural world both serene and oppressive with a nerve-jangling score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, which draws choral inspiration from early religious music.”

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