Dean’s pick of the month

August’s Pick

“Men” starring Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear, directed by Alex Garland

There are a few horror films that have perpetually changed the genre. “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Shining,” (with Nicholson), “Alien,” come to mind. Early this summer of 2022, Alex Garland’s “Men” didn’t exactly roar into theaters, but it’s a safe bet that over time it will be remembered as one of the modern game changers, much like 2018’s “Hereditary,” with Toni Collette’s overwhelming performance of psycho-evil itself coming unglued.

“Men” is directed by Alex Garland, who, in 8 short years has also put out two other masterworks of mayhem and dread, “Ex Machina,” and “Annihilation.” “Men” is just as powerful, and even more – if that’s possible – a visceral experience than Garland’s previous releases.

The film stars two actors at the peak of their powers: Jessie Buckley, and Rory Kinnear. Buckley stars as Harper Marlowe, a broken woman who has suffered as witness to her late husband’s awful and brutal suicide. She decides to escape her overwhelming dread to a small village in Cotson. The moment she arrives at the wondrous cottage home she’s rented out for a few weeks, she meets Rory Kinnear’s first of 10 different characters, the home’s owner, Geoffrey.

While Geoffrey seems okay, there is an instant awareness of Kinnear’s ability to effortlessly begin his assault on your senses one unnerving character at a time, with each character building such a tension and emotional pummeling of Buckley’s Marlowe, that by the end of the film we have seen him as the following: a freakish homeless wanderer who ruthlessly stalks – fully naked – Marlowe; a terrifying priest who invades Marlowe’s personal space so vividly it’s like he’s sitting next to you in the theater with his hand between your legs; a child-like dwarf who instantly insults and hates Marlowe because she doesn’t want to play a game; a police officer who thinks Marlowe’s complaints are simply amusing; and a barroom full of men who by all appearance loathe Marlowe’s very presence the moment she walks in for a relief drink. All men. All played by Kinnear with an astonishing force of ugliness.

The entire film is a one woman’s race against the pain men have drilled into her, only to find her escape landing in a trapped and hellish world of more men who want to do only one thing: destroy her. Jessie Buckley navigates through this maze of terror with such distress and anguish there are times when the film borderlines from horror to tragedy – and are they not one in the same in so many ways? It is a performance that matches the intensity and fright of Kinnear’s multiple personality disorder.

Had it not been for the film’s final 15 minutes, “Men” is a horror masterpiece as good as anything you will ever see. But sadly, it is an ending that loses its focus. An ending that gets so bogged down in a repeated birth of gore that it’s hard to not shout out, “What are you doing, Alex?! What the hell happened?!” But no matter. If you are looking for a film for this year’s haunted season that will long stay with you after the closing credits, “Men” is a dirty hypodermic needle plunged deep in the vein that’s tough to remove.


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