Tuesday, 23 August 2022

Men (2022)

I had been looking forward to seeing this, as I do anything with Jessie Buckley (I'm Thinking of Ending Things, Fargo) starring. I didn't know quite what to expect, however, apart from knowing that it's a bit of a spook-fest, horror-cum-thriller set in the UK with a mainly British cast.

I've come to the end of it and am still not quite too sure what to think of it! It's a project by Alex Garland who was previously responsible for the ideas making up Ex_Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018) - so if you know those, you'll have got an idea of what might be in store. Or will you?

We follow Harper who has recently gone through a traumatic marriage situation, which she tried to get out of, but her husband James threatened to kill himself if she did and lavish guilt on Harper in the process. We see these angry and beautifully acted scenes between the two of them via flashback. The first thing to say is that whatever you think of the storyline, ideas and outcome of the film, the acting is top-notch from the leads. You'll need to know at this point that James does indeed die and Harper heads off to the English countryside and hires a Manor house for a couple of weeks with a view to recovering from the trauma and getting break from London.

She gets to the house and weird stuff starts to happen. It's going to be really difficult to not spill the beans here so I shall tread carefully, but we move through the film in three parts. The first part is her getting to know the surroundings, some of the locals, trying to rest up. The second part is where we start to see her up against some very odd behaviour from some of the local people and the third part is where the chaos happens and the viewer wonders what on earth is going on!

The significant locals in question are all played by Rory Kinnear (The Imitation Game, a few of the James Bond films, Peterloo) made up in various disguises and he pulls that off excellently well throughout - even when he's really too old to play one of the characters. The characters, one by one, make Harper's life even more miserable than it was with James - and herein lies the ambiguity and questions about what really happens as we go forward.

We've seen many films where we're left to guess half the time whether what we're seeing is what is really happening, or perhaps a jaded view of reality through the eyes of one of the characters, and we're left with that situation here. I guess it must be a spoiler alert to say that the audience is left to wonder even after the finale, to some degree. Sorry!

There are themes running through the film though. The main one being guilt - as Harper is wrapped up with herself over the death of James and it's all coming back to haunt her. There are apparent parallels going on with regards to rebirth, religion, the historic roles of women, the earth, evil behaviour of men (and other males) and new life. As we head towards the finale, the whole outing turns into sheer horror as we are exposed to something like Cronenberg might have churned out! Say no more.

The setting lends itself to spooky, isolated as she is in a big country house alone and Garland makes the most of that, exploiting every nook and cranny of the house, working nicely with cinematography, lighting and colours. It's beautifully shot with great visuals, outside and in with music helping to create the atmosphere nicely.

It's an odd film, now available via various streaming services which can be enjoyed for the central performances and direction. What will be taken away from it will be different for different people. To some degree you need to make your own mind up as to what's going on - and some might not be happy about that and want a more tangible outcome. But you can enjoy the ride. I did!

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