Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 40 minutes, Director – Alex Garland
When her violent husband (Paapa Essiedu) commits suicide, Harper (Jessie Buckley) travels to a small village in the country to find some peace, only to be stalked by a group of eerie locals (Rory Kinnear).
There have been plenty who have compared the feeling of the enclosed village in writer-director Alex Garland’s Men to the faces and oddities of Royston Vasey. However, an equally present nature introduces thoughts of the darker side of Hot Fuzz. Although, instead of attacking those who make the place look ‘untidy’, and causing hassle for the new officer in town, the various west-country-accented male faces (all played by Rory Kinnear) torment Jessie Buckley’s Harper as she simply looks for peace and calm after the suicide of her violent husband, James (Paapa Essiedu).
Despite the increasing eeriness of the small village and its residents the first instance of terror appears in a flashback argument between the married couple. They shout and scream at each other, tension building up as we fear that James may lash out and harm Harper – she’s seen at the start of the film with a bloodied nose as he falls to his death in front of her. The anger in his voice, that in hers; alongside fear, creates a real sense of naturalistic terror that brings you further into the film and what it may have to offer in terms of horror. Up until this point we’ve largely seen Harper exploring the grand house in which she’ll be staying in for two weeks. Receiving the ‘grand tour’ from landlord Geoffrey. Geoffrey certainly doesn’t seem like someone to be fearful of. Yes, a slightly awkward fellow not without his eccentricities, but there’s an element of humour to him and the various lines and jokes that he reminisces: “M4: Dreadful chore”. Even in the local pub, full of scowling, mistrusting faces, his simple participation in a crossword slightly relaxes you, before his actions simply make everyone else’s presence a source of greater unease.
It’s as we discover other similar faces that things become sinister. Harper entrusts the thoughts in her mind with the local vicar only to be met with questioning as to whether she feels guilt for having led her husband to suicide. “Do you prefer for things to be comfortable or true?” she’s asked as the weight and themes of the film begin to truly settle in amidst this conversation, particularly after the crashing sound of “men do strike women sometimes, it’s not nice but it’s not a capital offense”. At this utterance, as a brief yet lasting thud of silence hits the viewer, the cart the film travels in begins to glide towards its ending. There’s a way to go yet, and plenty of horror and tension to be experienced, but the film in no way feels 100 minutes long.
Amongst the more natural tension and fear throughout the film at the creepy comments and actions of the figures shown, all helped by Kinnear’s excellent central performance and Buckley’s clear terror and pain, the more fantastical elements that are introduced never distract from the flow or feelings that are created. They help to push things, assisted by initial suggestions and thoughts that crop up at certain points, slightly preparing you for what might be to come – although never fully – so it doesn’t feel entirely out of the blue. Such elements keep you involved and engaged as Harper’s plan to get away and find peace provides her with anything but. It allows for much of the horror to be natural, lingering suspense for just what the various men in the village will do or say next. Certainly there’s uncomfortable viewing during one or two key moments, translated well by Garland into tension thanks to everything that’s built up over the course of the film.
By the end there’s certainly a lot to unpack. This feels intentional as the film wants you to sit and reflect on it during the credits. It’s likely to have a lasting effect with many points and moments lingering in the mind afterwards – and perhaps warranting a second viewing, even if just to watch it again because it’s great. What’s evident from one viewing though is that the transitions from naturalistic horror in the flashbacks to the shudder-inducing actions and statements of Kinnear’s collective to the effective sprays of gore are all handled well by Garland, Buckley and Kinnear. Creating, alongside the rest of the cast and crew, a truly eerie horror that works because of just how much you discover about the main character in so little time in the opening stages, and indeed flashbacks. It’s a fine piece of work that clicks early on and runs well with its themes and ideas. Keeping you both in place and suspense, but definitely away from a dreadful chore.
Led by two excellent central performances from Buckley and Kinnear, Men easily conjures up an eerily suspenseful style that keeps you engaged throughout its fast flowing run-time. Capturing you in the shocks of both the more out-there horror and that which leans towards more naturalistic territory, which sometimes provides more unease, panic and uncertainty.