Exploring misogyny and grief through a series of increasingly gory biblical and sexual metaphors, Men finds terror in the stark reality of toxic masculinity in our society.
Women are responsible for the suffering of men. An early scene sets up this misogynistic line of thinking as one of Men’s key themes. Our protagonist Harper (Jessie Buckley) eats an apple from a tree only to be ‘jokingly’ chastised by her landlord Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) for partaking in the forbidden fruit. Despite the apparently light-hearted nature of this comment, Kinnear’s tone suggests that there is some truth behind his jest. In building upon the patriarchal story of Adam and Eve, writer-director Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation) crafts a terrifyingly thought-provoking story of grief and violence.
The story revolves around Harper’s solo trip to the countryside, which she has taken in an attempt to begin healing from the death of her abusive late husband James (Paapa Essideu). In fleeing to the countryside and renting a luxurious holiday home, Harper hopes to escape from reality; whilst she does manage to do this, it is certainly not in the way she hopes. From a naked man who stalks her to a policeman who dismisses her concerns, Harper encounters all-too-familiar situations of male violence which gradually begin to verge on the supernatural.
The most striking aspect of Men is the utilisation of horrifying and grotesque scenes as metaphors to comment on the societal problems of misogyny and toxic masculinity. One of the most disturbing scenes comes at the film’s climax, which features a disturbing metaphor illustrating how men perpetuate the cycle of toxic masculinity. The fact that Rory Kinnear plays all of the male characters adds to this metaphor. Although the men have different roles, together they are all guilty of contributing to a misogynistic society. The first half of the film includes numerous micro-aggressions by the men towards Harper (such as Geoffrey telling Harper there’s no need to lock the door, and a schoolboy making her feel guilty for saying ‘no’ to hide-and-seek.) This build up of uncomfortably familiar scenarios grounds Men in reality and allows the gruesome metaphors that follow to be understood as representative of the monstrous nature of toxic masculinity.
Bolstering the horror is the score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. Featuring echoing cries and calls which build throughout the film, it is notably disconcerting. This is contrasted with well-chosen moments of silence, successfully heightening the horror and building suspense. Also adding to the terror is the use of red-tinted lighting in the flashback scenes showing the lead up to James’ death. As the film progresses, the red-tinted lighting spills out from flashbacks into the present day, demonstrating that Harper views everything through the lens of her own trauma, and suggesting that the supernatural horror is also a metaphor for her grief-fuelled guilt. Jessie Buckley masterfully captures these feelings, bringing a certain relatability to Harper’s character that inevitably invests viewers in her peril. Rory Kinnear must also be commended for his versatility, impressively playing the majority of male characters in the film. Although the cast is small, each actor holds their weight and more, with the result being that Men is a convincing and relatable horror, despite the abundance of metaphors.
As Men reaches its conclusion, after a storm of supernatural scares, it once again grounds itself back in reality. The concluding shots are set in the light of day where, although the horror has subsided, the impact of it remains. Stripping back all of the gore leaves viewers with a final thought on the true terror of the film: the fact that we are left in a society which continues to be misogynistic and dangerous for women.
Overall, Men is a comment on misogyny and toxic masculinity, told through the lens of Harper’s own trauma and grief. Everything from the score to the lighting to the horror intensifies throughout the film, peaking with an incredibly disturbing climax that is difficult to forget. It’s a thought-provoking, unique and horrifying film.
Words by Verity Alice Cartwright
Men is in cinemas now.
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