With his latest feature, Alex Garland, the provocative novelist (The Beach, The Tesseract, The Coma) turned screenwriter (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go) turned writer/director (Ex Machina, Annihilation) delivers the most vacuous horror allegory to come out of A24, the studio that made this style the hippest thing in contemporary cinema. The bluntly and laughably named Men would be more aptly titled Virtue Signalling: The Motion Picture were it not for the fact that the movie fails at even its most basic aim—to expose systemic misogyny via the foregrounding of subtext in a creepy folk-horror tale.

Jessie Buckley stars as Harper, a thirtyish woman looking for some solace after a personal tragedy. She rents an Old English country manor from its awkward toothy owner Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear). What starts out as pleasant strolls through the gardens and forests quickly turn sinister as Harper is menaced by a ghostly naked male figure and belittled by the microaggressions of the actual males in the village—all of whom mysteriously resemble Geoffrey.

Ever since Jordan Peele’s wonderful Get Out (2017) reminded mass audiences about the joy of exploring contemporary issues via a highly entertaining genre picture, writers and directors have been falling all over themselves to be the next one to hit the zeitgeist bullseye with the perfect blending of pointed commentary with horror or psychological thriller elements. And while many have resulted in little more than pretentious pandering via elaborately adorned productions—Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (2017), Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019), Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho (2021), and Peele’s own Us (2019)—few have failed to the extent of Men. Garland dresses up his anaemic production (an obvious COVID-19 project if there ever was one) by piling on the symbolism, religious and pagan imagery, and visual metaphors as if he were trying to win a 48-hour film contest where the challenge is to graft the most political subtext onto the thinnest possible narrative. 

But in his effort to make thematic points, the writer/director forgets to make his female protagonist into an actual character. He relies entirely on Buckley to provide any dimensionality to Harper, but his script and limited setting make that impossible. Buckley can only react to things she (and we) don't understand and wallow in flashbacks to what got her to this place. So what Garland ends up with is as much an example of misogyny as it is a critique. The theme of this movie seems to be that men have always been, and will always be, weak, unreasonable, insecure, violent adolescents, and this filmmaker deeply understands this. It's the cinematic equivalent of an incel stuck in the "friend zone" trying to get into a girl's pants by feigning sympathy.

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The cinematic equivalent of an incel trying to get into a girl's pants by feigning sympathy and understanding, Garland's latest would be more aptly titled Virtue Signalling: The Motion Picture except that it's an example of misogyny as much as a critique.

Directed by Alex Garland
Produced by Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich

Written by Alex Garland

With: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, and Gayle Rankin

Cinematography: Rob Hardy
Editing: Jake Roberts
Music: Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury

Runtime: 100 min
Release Date: 20 May 2022
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1