Review: Men

Men screenshot

Year: 2022 | Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Man, I was on-board with Men for so long. Jessie Buckley is wonderful. The music is spectacular. The camerawork, particularly with the use of focus, is dynamic and interesting. The story mixes the realistic with the abstract just enough to keep you guessing and intrigued. Yes, the “drama” portion of this film is engaging and riveting, even at its slow and deliberate pace.

Then right at the beginning of the third act, it’s like a switch is flipped and the narrative and style delves straight into Blumhouse cheap-horror territory, and that’s where Men begins to lose me. Once the lights went out (and on, and out, and on) and Jessie Buckley started having to defend her rental house from the deluge of same-faced predators (all played by Rory Kinnear, or at least featuring his CGI-ed facade), I lost interest and got downright bored. And THEN the body horror climax that I’m sure you’ve all heard about hit, and I had to stifle my giggles in the theater to keep from disturbing the other viewers. It’s just so ridiculous as to border on laughably stupid.

And the thing is, the thematic depth and underlying message here doesn’t help to salvage the silliness of the third act at all. Writer-director Alex Garland seems to think that he has contributed some deep commentary about the patriarchy and the predatory tendencies of straight, cis men, but in fact, he has simply pointed out problems that most people who aren’t straight, cis men already know: how men tend to blame women for their own shortcomings and bad actions, how even “nice” guys can be deeply misogynistic and even violent toward women, how we as a society groom our boys to grow into these exact same types of men. And the problems are presented with absolutely zero subtlety, with what seems to me to be little sympathy (much less empathy) with the female lead character, and with not much to actually say about these tendencies of our¬†society.

As I think about this film and what Garland may (or may not) have been trying to say about feminism and the patriarchy, I can’t help but contrast it with another one of Jessie Buckley’s films, last year’s The Lost Daughter. Written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal (y’know, an actual woman), that film is a much more subtle and effective commentary on societal pressures on women by examining those pressures from a woman’s point of view, rather than by how women react to the actions of men. It’s a stunning study on how society views and treats women who refuse to conform to the traditional gender roles of wife and mother by forcing us to empathize with a woman who resents the fact that she was forced into those roles when she was young and “in her prime.” Olivia Colman’s character is “unlikeable,” sure, but Gyllenhaal expertly makes the audience question exactly why they dislike the character, and thus what they are conditioned to believe about women who choose to take control of their own lives. It’s a deeply feminist film in that it doesn’t rely on cheap tropes like “aren’t men awful?” to make its point and to say something profound and original about the patriarchal society that we live in. And that subtlety and subversion is almost certainly largely thanks to the fact that the film was made by someone who has experienced the pressures and inequality of that patriarchy first-hand.

Now, that’s not to say that a man can’t make an effective feminist film; a straight man made arguably the greatest LGBT film of all time, after all (Moonlight [2016], in case that wasn’t obvious). All I’m saying is that Men ain’t it.

Language: English
Genre: Drama, Horror
Runtime: 1 hr. 40 min.
Rating: R

Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, Gayle Rankin, Sarah Twomey

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