So similar to Edgar Wright, I had to wait what felt like an eternity to see Alex Garland’s next film in theaters. But unlike Last Night In Soho where I liked most stuff in the first and second act and the third act derailed almost all of its good will, “Men” is left muddled by its own ambition and ambiguity right out of the starting gate…..
….and somehow, it works in its favor? I don’t know how to proceed with this but I think I like it?
As far as how parts of this movie works, the classic A24 trademark strikes again with an eerily tantalizing atmosphere to the proceedings and an visibly unhinged yet artistic presentation that allows its gorgeous, haunting cinematography to envelope each scene with an escalating dose of permeating bright colors and visual dread every few minutes. Most of that comes down to Alex Garland’s directing coming off almost primal in relation to how the film looks, effortlessly blending the natural with the unnatural. In the midst of a stalker scenario, a slasher set-piece and a body-horror climax all at once, he continues to represent atypical worldviews, bringing into question established systems of power and ultimately tearing them down in a manner that purposely tests the audience’s patience even with a brisk pace.
With a lead performance from Jessie Buckley that holds you at attention and commands the screen, fantastic use of or lack of music/sound design to set the mood, discomforting ambience, articulate production design, dialogue and emasculate portrayal of surreal horror Garland is known for, there is a lot to appropriate. The story, though, is where I began to scratch my head because everything about this story’s structure is both arbitrarily messy and a bit shallow……yet it’s probably for the better?
From its themes surrounding misogyny, gender disparity, and patriarchal power through religion to how women tend to weigh their guilt against their desire for independence when constantly haunted by even the slightest aura of that toxicity to metaphors ranging from thematic to utterly clumsy, so much about this story bleeds with so much significant subtext for one to sink its teeth into. The actual plot is surprisingly hefty on momentum, inverting some of the usual damsel-in-distress tropes as well as other traditional storytelling cliches that plague home-invasion thrillers. As a canvas for the artistic nature of the pains that Harper faces, it’s a nice continuation regarding how Garland normally likes to dissect humanity through individualism, trauma or self-destruction but for all that it wants to talk about, it’s his lack of subtlety here that becomes this films major detriment.
From blunt metaphors to how straightforward the story is in general going into that bonkers final act, the sudden drop of character investment and slow burn intrigue resulted in a final act that not only dragged on for an eternity but jeopardized the importance of its messages just for the sake of some extra shock value.
I probably would’ve liked the story more, had it decided to be clever with its messaging but like I mentioned about films portraying racism and bigotry in the past, sometimes, very rarely but sometimes, sometimes the less subtle approach is the best one. Here it’s the best and worst of both worlds…..
Unlike other A24 movies, this was the first one where I didn’t really know how to approach it but was aware that it would be divisive from the off-set. This is the first time I feel like an A24 film nearly jeopardized the quality of its substance to have it look and come off as bonkers as possible just to spark a reaction but there is still a method to the madness underneath all of that; you just gotta know where to look….or better yet, how to look at it.