“Men” is a bizarre horror movie seeped in symbolism. When a young woman experiences a traumatic event that changes her life, she decides to decompress with pastoral stay in a quaint English village. Yet her time in that idyllic setting turns into a nightmare. Perhaps it is her inner torment from guilt and grief. Perhaps it is the ancient Celtic myths alive in the woods. Perhaps the village is far from being quaint…
Harper Marlowe (played by Jessie Buckley) is in need of some time away. She was planning on divorcing her husband James (played by Paapa Essiedu). In the final time they spent together, he was rough to her and threatened to kill himself. He later fell to his death, right outside her window. Either it was an accident, or he let it happen – but now his death haunts Harper.
Harper finds a little place to rent for a week, three hours outside of London. The English countryside is beautiful. She calls her friend Riley (played by Gayle Rankin) to let her know the latest details of how good this place is. The landlord of the large cottage house is a man named Geoffrey (played by Rory Kinnear). He is a pleasant chap with no memorable features.
Geoffrey shows Harper all the features of the rental. He jokes about the apple that she took from the large tree in the garden. “Forbidden Fruit” and all that, ya know – just joking. He says there are some wonderful woods for long walks. There is also the village just up the road. It has a very old church that can be explored. There is even a small pub, where the pints are served cold.
Harper goes for a nice long walk in the natural environment. There is a little drainage area, where she heads down to see where it leads. There she finds a very long and wide tunnel. It is pretty cool to walk down. But there is someone at the other end. That person gets up and starts walking towards Harper. She high-tails it out of there. She finds her way out of the ditch, never quite sure if she was being followed.
She takes a picture of some old broken-down huts that are near the ditch. There is man there, all by himself. He is very naked. Good thing she is pretty far away from him now. The next day, Harper calls her friend Riley and gives a Facetime tour of the house. Then she notices the naked man, the same one whom she saw the other day. He is hanging out in the garden, studying the apple tree. She calls the police, and they come to collect the nude dude.
Harper has not noticed, or maybe she has not said anything about it. The face of the naked garden lover looked just like Geoffrey. But then so did the face of the policeman who had come to take the nudist into custody. Harper is very confused about all of this, but she keeps it all to herself. The next day, she walks into the village. She makes a stop at the very old church.
Inside the church, Harper finds some interesting things. There is a font in front of the altar. On one side is a gothic carving of a man’s face, covered with leaves and branches. On the opposite side is a carving of a Sheela-Na-Gig (a female figure who has exposed private parts). These are pagan figures deeply rooted in myth and lost traditions. Harper’s immediate memories still haunt her.
She runs into a young boy who insists on playing hide-and-seek. But this kid has the same face (much younger-looking) as the landlord Geoffrey. Then there is the understanding, yet way too creepy Vicar. He also has the face of Geoffrey. When Harper makes it to the pub later on, she sees Geoffrey’s face. He is there, so that makes sense. But she sees his face on all of the men in the pub.
Harper is mentally stressed and confused. What is going on around here? She hurries home, where things get even creepier. The security lights flash on and off, and the naked man is back – but then he is gone. There is a disturbing event, one that inflicts great pain. But Harper is attacked, but who is this person? Is it the young boy, is it the old naked man, is it the creepy Vicar, or is it actually Geoffrey? Or is it someone else from Harper’s past? Maybe this whole thing is only in her mind…
“Men” wants to identify itself as a finely-tuned folk-horror tale. But this is a roller-coaster train that slowly takes off and climbs the steep grades gracefully. Finally it gets too far out of the woods and jumps the track at the end. The first two thirds of the movie get you into a discomfort zone that begs for some resolution. But the ending is suited more for a documentary on Animal Husbandry. It can surely say that these final portions of the movie have never been seen elsewhere.
The acting of Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear is very well presented. The character of Harper does not have much in the way of background story and motivation. But Buckley player very much as a damsel NOT in distress. Kinnear has an odd role (or roles) in that he is the person who plays just about every man in this village. Hats off to the Hair and Make-up Department, they also share in his success.
“Men” is not a classic horror movie about things that go bump in the night. When guilt and grief gather up, and some ancient myths come to life, the bizarre events that unfold are enough to make you say ‘Oh Boy’.
Written and Directed by: Alex Garland
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear
Cinematography: Rob Hardy
Edited by: Jake Roberts
Music by: Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow
Distributed by: A24
Release date: May 20 2022
Length: 100 minutes
MPAA rating: R for disturbing and violent content, graphic nudity, grisly images and language.