The Movie Waffler New to Prime Video - MEN | The Movie Waffler

New to Prime Video - MEN

New to Prime Video - MEN
A tormented woman's attempt to unwind in the countryside doesn't go as intended.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alex Garland

Starring: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, Gayle Rankin

men poster

Is there a woman alive who at some point in her life hasn't uttered the refrain "Men are all the same"? In writer/director Alex Garland's Men, all the men really are the same. They're all played by Rory Kinnear. It's certainly an interesting choice, and it's easy to see what Garland is getting at, but rather than having an eerie effect it instead feels as though the film's female lead, Jessie Buckley, is the human star of a Muppet movie, oblivious to the unspoken fact that she's the only character not made of felt.

Buckley is Harper, a ridiculously wealthy (based on the implausible location of her London apartment, the sort of residence only oil barons and Premier League footballers could afford to rent) Irish woman who heads to a seemingly idyllic village in the English countryside. Renting a spacious yet quaint house for two weeks, Harper hopes to unwind and get past the trauma she's been experiencing ever since her abusive husband James (Paapa Essiedu) died after falling from the window of their ridiculously expensive townhouse. Harper had asked for a divorce, to which James responded by threatening to kill himself, and she's left unsure as to whether his death was suicide or an accident.

men review

The first of Kinnear's incarnations we meet is Dick Emory lookalike Geoffrey, the awkward but friendly owner of the home Harper is renting. Later while out for a walk she finds herself followed by a naked man covered in scars, who looks a lot like Geoffrey. After he tries to get into her rented home, Harper calls the police, and the policeman who responds is another Geoffrey clone, as is the local vicar, a young boy and a couple of sinister Straw Dogs extras lurking in the pub, whose landlord is also the spit of Geoffrey. This is never remarked on by Harper, who makes several other observations about how odd the area is in a series of Facetime calls with a female friend (Gayle Rankin) back in London.

Aside from Geoffrey, to different degrees all the men Harper encounters treat her terribly. Opening up to the local vicar about being haunted by James, the man of the cloth hints that she may have driven her hubby to suicide. The young boy swears at her. The copper is useless. The Straw Dogs extras try to break into her home (of course). Meanwhile the naked man is slowly morphing into that popular pagan figure The Green Man.

men review

While initially intriguing, Men soon reveals itself as a shallow attempt to replicate the unique atmosphere of 1970s folky gems like Robin Redbreast, Images and Penda's Fen. It's the former that it most resembles, with its sophisticated urban female protagonist encountering hostility in a rural setting, but that movie was made for British TV on a miniscule budget and was forced to be very subtle about its metaphors. Not so Men, which seems like a case of a movie overrun by its budget. The most effective scenes in Men are those that consist simply of two actors interacting, even if the dialogue is crudely on-the-nose and the Kinnear gimmick is disruptive. When Screaming Mad George-style body horror effects start to come into play the movie really goes off the rails, and Garland has admitted himself that he didn't really know how to wrap his movie up.

Garland doesn't seem to have given much thought to his casting. Making his female lead Irish and dropping her into rural England should make for a horror movie in itself but this dynamic isn't remotely addressed, as though the character wasn't written as Irish until Buckley was cast. The movie's "believe women" stance is made uneasy by having Harper's abusive husband played by a black actor, given history's many examples of white women lying about abuse at the hands of black men.

men review

Men is another example of that increasingly tedious sub-genre that's come to be known as "elevated horror," a snobby classification that suggests regular horror is only of value to idiots. Horror fans spent much of the past couple of decades moaning about mainstream horror's reliance on jump scares, but the tropes of elevated horror (slow zooms, screechy string scores, clunky metaphors) are just as cheap and cynical as throwing a cat onto a piano. The people who make these movies would likely say that they don’t just want to scare the audience but to make the viewer think, but they're all so obvious in their meanings that there's nothing to think about; the subtext overwhelms the text and often becomes the key selling point. If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre had been made by one of this lot one of its characters would probably have remarked how rural Texas was as hostile to outsiders as the jungles of Vietnam.

 is on Prime Video UK now.

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