A pretentious, farcical movie with very little substance
Creepy, atmospheric and outright weird, somewhere in Men is a good film. Unfortunately, the movie’s over-simplified themes, bludgeoned repeatedly to the point of becoming farcical, make this an arthouse picture that becomes more of a chore to sit through than it should be.
Written and Directed by Alex Garland, Men’s plot is super simple as Harper (Jessie Vuckley) heads to the countryside to get away from the ghosts of her past. Specifically that of her abusive ex boyfriend James, whom she was in the process of divorcing when he commits suicide. This two-week getaway is just what she needed. Or so she thought.
When she arrives, Harper ends up eating an apple from a tree in the garden. Jeffrey, the landlord, is shocked and tells her the fruit is forbidden. Hm, I wonder what this could be referencing? Anyway, Harper soon settles in but finds herself in the presence of a number of different men, each gaslighting her, each surface-level nut-jobs and each blaming her for the trauma she’s suffering from.
For the rest of the movie, Harper is forced to try and survive from these horrible men. She runs away, repeats an incredulous “…what?!” when they’re revealed to be horrible and fights back… until she doesn’t.
Without giving too much away, there’s a disturbing and shocking scene involving the men in town right at the end that’s an incredibly ballsy move to show on screen. I won’t spoil that here but Garland and co. are so proud of this shot that they repeat the process nearly FIVE times. And our scared protagonist through all of this? The one who has spent most of the movie running away? Just casually standing around and watching.
The problem with Men is that it’s one of those films that thinks its super deep and proudly flaunts what it’s got. Like a peacock parading around a garden with its feathers up, Men tries to dazzle and impress with its themes, which amount to “Hitting women and emotionally manipulating people is bad” and “misogyny is hereditary and passed down through generations.” That’s it. There’s no nuance here; no shades of grey to make you think.
Given this film is written and directed by a man, exploring feminist themes and ideas, it’s almost insulting to see Harper defined by her trauma. There’s absolutely nothing we learn about this character (beyond that she runs away a lot) outside of her past. Instead, we just get 100 minutes of the film slamming a sledgehammer repeatedly at the screenplay, trying to make this more deep and thought provoking than it actually is.
It’s particularly disappointing because the opening 40 minutes or so are actually really good. They build up a wonderful atmosphere, add in just the right amount of exposition and manage to send goosebumps through some spine-chilling segments that will have you absolutely gripped. There’s one scene involving a tunnel and Harper marvelling at the echoes that’s so well crafted.
But then the film forgets about this, ups the pace and then just abruptly ends without actually resolving its conflict. From a purely metaphorical or allegorical level then yes, there is a conclusion per-se for Harper, but in terms of what we see on screen and what we’ve been led to believe with the story, the film just…stops.
Now, some arguments I’ve seen show that the shallow and paper-thin characters in this film are portrayed that way because this is what Harper is projecting and believing (forgetting that Harper herself is paper-thin by design too). My argument to that is the same thing I’ve said to anyone defending The Last Jedi or other films with bad writing. If you need to create your own head-canon to justify gaps in logic or character nuance, the screenplay isn’t doing its job properly.
There will undoubtedly be some people coming out of Men praising this movie for being super deep but when you really stop and think about it, it’s not. This is a male’s oversimplified impression of trauma and grief with nothing to say beyond “men=bad.” Men is a misfire; the movie equivalent of a stand up comedian constantly explaining the same joke for an hour and a half. We get it, guy, can we please get some substance and nuance? No? Oh, okay then.
Verdict - 3/10