Alex Garland’s first two films—Ex Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018)—were impressive examples of Sci-fi storytelling, and yet it’s not too big of a surprise that his latest offering, Men (2022), has been called ‘folk horror.’ Since his debut, this English filmmaker has shown an interest in themes of isolation and the way humans relate to nature, so it was only a matter of time before he found this genre. These thematic interests are explored to their logical conclusions after her husband commits suicide, and protagonist Harper Marlowe travels to a small village in England’s countryside to heal and reflect. Not long after, something in the woods begins to stalk her, and Garland’s newest nightmare starts to unfold.
The cinematography in this film is truly something that should be seen on as big a screen as possible. Bright greens and dark shadows find their way into most shots, and there’s a ton of great camera work. Certain zooms and pans help create an almost claustrophobic atmosphere and help emphasize Harper’s natural surroundings. Even the sound design is fantastic, helping bring us more into the world Garland & co. have created; and the score is killer. It’s clear that, on a technical level, a lot of care was taken with this movie. I just wish that same care had worked its way into the script.
A lot of the metaphors and symbols in this film were compelling, but I didn’t find the dots connected enough for viewers to really make anything of it beyond that. Based off recent interviews, it seems Garland himself didn’t have an answer to some of the questions the film’s symbolism leaves audiences with. In one, he says that “because the character doesn’t have a definitive answer […] I never had one.” While the film is definitely attempting to make some comment on a variety of issues, it's unclear (even to the filmmaker) what exactly it's trying to say about any of these things. I’m all for ambiguity, but it should be done with a purpose, otherwise viewers will be able to tell the director didn’t know what any of this means either and we’re all left a bit confused. There was also a slight issue with pacing towards the middle; the film seems to lag, hanging in areas that don’t require it. Maybe these stagnant moments could’ve been used to further Garland’s exploration of grief, masculinity, violence and patriarchy, if only he knew what he was trying to say.
Don’t let these errors in execution deter you from seeing it, though. What this film lacks in writing it makes up for in visuals, and the acting is superb. Jessie Buckley’s performance as Harper displays a wild range of emotions that locks viewers onto the edge of their seats; and shout-out to Rory Kinnear for juggling so many roles in one film. While this movie definitely has its shortcomings, it was a fun/new take on the ‘woman alone in a country-house’ plot we’re all so used to seeing by now, and it did a great job subverting certain tropes. Definitely well-shot and one of the more pleasant surprises I’ve seen this year. Be sure to watch Men in a theater near you!