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As the credits rolled over writer/director Alex Garland MenI found myself imagining a version of the movie that wasn’t called Men. In all other respects it would be the exact same movie, not a movie image or musical note altered in any way. It would just be called something else, maybe country mansion Where The garden or seriously literally anything other. Perhaps that would change the meaning of the obviousness of the hammer in its central metaphor. Or maybe not, but my God, it might have been worth a try.

Because Men, while clearly intended as a work of provocation, need not be so smug about it. As a disturbing work of horror, it’s often terrific, nauseating in both its imagery and its ideas. It just seems, once that title slams onto the screen at the end, that it practically dares you not to find it deep in its nightmarish take on gender politics. Garland might as well have given Men the post-colon subtitle Amirite, ladies?

There’s a simply compelling set-up at the root of it all, involving a Londoner named Harper (Jessie Buckley) who travels to the countryside for a two-week rental of a lavish country mansion. A deeply traumatic event involving her husband James (Paapa Essiedu) continues to haunt her, and once she gets the key from the owner of the house, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), she hopes for some peace and quiet. Then she meets a mysterious naked man in the nearby woods. And then his encounters with all the men in the general neighborhood become kind of unnerving.

Like the trailers of Men warned us, part of what’s troubling about these encounters is that all of the male characters besides James – a mean schoolboy; the local vicar; the policeman who answers her emergency call – has the same face, Kinnear’s face, although Harper herself never seems to be aware of this fact. That in itself is a bold gamble, with Garland effectively saying, “yes, everything men, that’s exactly what I mean.” The different roles played by these same-faced men dig into all sorts of difficult territory — like blaming victims, making white knights, and blaming women for men’s lustful thoughts. – are very promising on theirs, but it’s as if Garland’s physical representation of these men acted as his own Cliffs Notes for the script, running a highlighter over every significant line.

The fucking shame is Men also recalls how extraordinarily gifted a filmmaker he is. As he showed in Ex-Machina and Annihilation, Garland can create some truly striking images and unsettling moments that make you want to step out of your own skin. His ability to build tension is showcased masterfully in an early sequence where Harper, exploring the surroundings of the house, finds himself at the mouth of a tunnel, playfully experimenting with its acoustics…until things get weird. From the lighting patterns he uses to the subliminal face that appears when a phone connection goes bad, Men makes its way into your brain in a way that simply cannot be dismissed.

But Garland also struggles with a story that feels awfully sure that you won’t be able to dismiss it. The visual touchstones he uses at various times – carved images of fertility symbols, the fruit of an apple tree, dandelion seeds flying and taking root – ask you to appreciate that something profound is happening. , as did the vicar’s recitation of Samuel Daniel’s poem “Ulysses and the Mermaid.” The climax sequence isn’t particularly subtle about perpetuating the cycles of behavior, though it’s still a memorably awful job. And as effectively as Buckley is able to convey both her growing anxiety and her anger at feeling guilty for someone else’s choices, Harper primarily exists as a representation of herself rather than a complete character – the woman. serving as a counterpoint to men.

Encore: How much of that frustration has to do with Garland’s title punching you in the mouth What It’s About? What is it here that we wouldn’t quite grasp without him? Even a provocation at some point has to trust its audience to understand what it is proposing. The problem with Men isn’t it so much that it suggests that not every man can be trusted; that’s more how the decision to call it Men tells everyone watching that they can’t be trusted either.

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