Summary: MEN is the most recent theatrical release from A24, it was written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex: Machina, Sunshine.), stars Jessie Buckley as the films lead (Harper), clocks in with a welcoming run time of 1 hour 45 minutes and is rated R. It’s a frightening feminine empowerment piece that follows Harper to a holiday retreat in the English countryside following the possible suicide of her husband in their London flat. It’s a drama that slowly burns its way into a true horror flick that blurs the lines between what Harper is actually experiencing and what may merely be the effects of possible PTSD or other delusions. A dark, gritty reality of the films overall tone is counterbalanced with an almost childlike magical darkness that can never truly be explained or seen in most cases, often being symbolized with nature or religious imagery. With a small cast, most other side characters are played by men, serving as multiple antagonists of varying severity and serve perfectly to move the film’s narrative forward. It’s nothing like Dr. Strange which I had seen the previous weekend.
As I mentioned, the run time on this film is a tolerable 1 hour 45 minutes and I sat through the whole thing. MEN definitely takes its time establishing the world they want, it’s slow, methodical, exploratory, and there’s even a tour of the country home Harper stays in. For the first 45 minutes to an hour, we’re simply meeting various male antagonists who grow stranger and stranger in their own ways as Harper ventures through locations in the nearby small village. It takes time to set up biblical and spiritual elements that come into play and pay off later. The slow pace also allows us plenty of time to get to know Harper and what she’s dealing with on her holiday in the country. Oftentimes we’re allowed glimpses of her witnessing her husband’s death through flashbacks and her turmoil is conveyed appropriately as she rides the line between empowerment and mental collapse. This movie was the length a movie should be. When I saw Dr. Strange in theaters, I had to leave the theater before the movie was over because the runtime for Dr. Strange is 2 ½ business days.
The film’s opening is particularly powerful, Harper stands in the kitchen of her London flat, nose bloodied, watching in slow motion out the window as a terrified man falls from the roof looking in on her. They seem to lock eyes as he falls to his certain death, the scene lingers and leaves a mysterious taste in your mouth wanting to know how this came to be. There’s lots of slow motion in Dr. Strange too but it doesn’t leave you with anything except more run time. Next, we see her driving through the English countryside to the beautiful holiday home in which she’ll be staying and at this point in the film we’ll be introduced to the home’s caretaker, Jeffrey, a bumbling but earnest and kindhearted idiot who means well but can really only repulse Harper with his dimwittedness. There was a bumbling idiot who means well named Jeffrey in Dr. Strange too… It was me, sitting in the theater last weekend.
From this point the movie begins its delve into the breakdown of Harpers trauma following her husband’s death or suicide. She explores the house, chats with a girlfriend via face-time and then takes a walk in the woods that surround the home and neighboring small village. She is merely focusing on recovery and trying her best to find peace in the beauty of the forest. Not long after this time in the woods the movie will begin to reveal itself as less of a drama and more of a true disturbing horror after Harper calls out and sings into a long dark tunnel she comes upon in the forest and awakens something that was resting deep within. Going forward she is stalked, gaslit, threatened, sexually imposed upon, terrified to the core and bears witness to horrors from unknown worlds. By the 1-hour mark of the film she has felt a true toxic nature from each male character she encounters ranging from a policeman who does not take her accounts of being stalked seriously, to a church Vicar who urges her to consider how her actions may have led her husband to suicide and the men of the town seem to be slowly turning their intentions towards something dark. I think Dr. Strange had a character named American Cheeseburger or something, who could open magic portals to other movie franchises.
I’d like to emphasize that up until the concluding 30 minutes of the final act, that this film has stayed solely grounded in reality. Anything strange that happened in the film is explained away easily as a common misunderstanding or simply something that can just happen. This includes cell phones not working properly, mysterious noises or voices, shadowy figures, etc. I went into this movie having only seen a single trailer for it a few weeks prior. I knew that with A24 I could be getting myself into anything, including a real fart of a film. But the last 30 minutes of this movie is comparable to having a nice long hot shower for about an hour and then suddenly someone dumps a bucket of ice water over your head and sends a shock into your core. You’re going to be fine, but you didn’t see it coming, and you kind of liked it… SPOILERS AHEAD.
Body horror and man vagina butthole birthing! The last 30 minutes of this film is some of the most intense, disturbing, biblical end times what the fuck stuff I have seen in a long, long time. The lines between practical effects and CGI were perfectly blurred and you feel every single rip and tearing of flesh that happens. I’m not going to say what happens to who or how, you just need to see it for yourself. I called this a SPOILER because unless you know that the last 30 minutes of this film is John Carpenter’s The THING level body horror and gore, you will not see it coming. This movie could have easily been a drama thriller about a woman’s recovery from her abusive husband’s suicide in a toxic masculine world where she finds the strength to overcome and conquer, ala “I am woman, hear me roar.” It did that, to a degree, but in a way that made it entertaining for everyone involved. It was what I would say was a rewarding payoff of which we rarely see in a lot of movies these days, let alone theatrical releases. Maybe this is why movies used to be rated R? I don’t remember how Dr. Strange ended, I wasn’t there. It probably had a CGI monster that fought with Dr. Strange and the Olsen Twins sane older sister while diabetic children sip large cups of hot butter flavoring in the audience.
Writers note: I like Marvel movies, I’ve seen 24 of them and 4 of their TV shows. I just wasn’t in the mood for Dr. Strange and I don’t believe in refunding movies, so I just left. I hear it’s actually pretty good and when it makes its way to streaming, I’ll probably watch it while I write my review about Downtown Abbey.