Men 2022 treads the fine line between blatant and profound, says KATE INGLEBY-PARYLO
DIRECTOR: Alex Garland
CAST: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear
Review of Men 2022
Seeking an escape after a traumatic event involving her ex-husband, Harper retreats to a peaceful manor in the British countryside. After some encounters with the locals, and still riddled with guilt, Harper soon realises this will not be the getaway she was longing for.
With exceptional performances by Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear, Men 2022 treads the fine line between blatant and profound.
Written and directed by Alex Garland, who also wrote and directed Ex Machina 2014 and Annihilation 2018, Men 2022 has a very unreal and mythological quality to it.
From the sound design to the visuals, everything about it seems a little off and dream-like. From the opening of Harper’s ex-husband falling in slow-motion to all the men having the same face, the film instantly establishes its tendency towards metaphors and symbolism over explanations.
Whilst the opening is fundamental in establishing the type of film Men 2022 will be, it is also crucial in setting up the world. Harper was in an abusive relationship with a man who threatened to commit suicide if she left him. Due to this, Harper has unresolved trauma and carries a lot of guilt. It could be concluded that the film is Harper’s perception and that the events are symbolic of her trauma with men pushing their masculinity on her.
Some of the biggest criticisms audiences have with the film are in regard to its’ heavy-handed nature and portrayal of all men being toxic. The film certainly doesn’t shy away from this and even capitalises on it through the use of the title Men, however, I would argue this isn’t necessarily the case. Rather the film is a creative examination of masculinity and Harper’s response to it, which sometimes cheapens its’ own meaning.
Throughout the film Harper has flashbacks to her marriage, clearly still haunted by it, and consistently has uncomfortable interactions with men who often actively expect something from her. All of these men have the same face, possibly implying that Harper views these men as the same and, due to her trauma, can no longer see the differences between them. Each of them is a stranger. Each of them carries and perpetuates some negative stereotypes of masculinity. Each is viewed as a threat.
The film and horror are at their best when the character actions and storytelling is subtle. It’s the uncomfortable atmosphere as Geoffrey (the posh owner) is showing Harper around the manor. The sudden panic as she spots a stranger begin to chase her from the other side of a tunnel. The gut feeling of sickness when the priest places a hand on her knee. The eeriest scene is when Harper has seemingly escaped a threat and is in a lush green open field. Then she spots a naked man staring at her. Whilst provocative all of these moments show some restraint but amplify tension.
Unfortunately, this is often ruined by going too far too soon and missing the point that it seems to be trying to make. When the priest touches Harper’s leg, it is subtle but deeply uncomfortable. To some, it could just be a kind but misplaced hand of comfort, to others, like Harper, it’s an alarming red flag. This ambiguity is soon squandered as the priest begins lecturing Harper about leaving her husband. Instead of a slow build or ambiguity, the film firmly decides to go towards the extreme very early on, putting off some viewers and dulling any statement it’s trying to make.
Men 2022 has been compared to the Aronofsky film Mother! 2017, due to its inclusion of metaphors and disturbing imagery. Unlike, Mother! however, Men quickly loses its steam and feels like it’s dragging its feet in the last half an hour. For a film that clearly isn’t afraid to be explicit, the horror only builds to a certain point early on and doesn’t go further until the ending.
Instead of an uneasy, gradual, build-up, the film likes to stall when the intensity is nearing its peak. Generating an almost stop, start sensation for the last half hour. Further creating a very jarring and uneven pacing in the final act and losing much of the tension built.
Like the premise, the ending of Men 2022 will leave audiences divided. Some will view the ending scenes as painfully pretentious and purposely vile, whilst others will appreciate the special effects and artistic nature.
Some audience members have commented on Harper’s lack of character as we don’t learn much about her as a person. I would argue this isn’t necessarily an issue as the film seems to be a depiction of certain aspects of masculinity and how women fit into it. Harper isn’t necessarily a fully formed character but rather a vessel to an experience. Whilst Men is an interesting creative experiment, it leaves much to be desired in terms of entertainment, however, perhaps that’s the point.
Watch Men 2022 trailer
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