The hallucinatory vein that makes a lot of Alex Garland’s work for the display mess together with your head in distinctive methods has maybe by no means been extra unsettling than in his third function as writer-director, Males. Constructing maniacally on present conversations about masculine aggression and feminine trauma, the movie lays the groundwork for acquainted people horror, with a susceptible lady in a quietly insidious surroundings, earlier than taking a bizzaro flip into trippy physique horror that hits new heights of WTF weirdness. Riveting performances from Jessie Buckley and a very chameleonic Rory Kinnear make this A24 conversation-starter an unconventional style standout.
Whereas the film begins with Buckley’s grieving Harper needled by males in methods which can be much less overtly hostile and invasive than awkward and unnerving, the regenerative cycles of abhorrent male conduct progressively are uncovered with graphic bluntness. That raises the query as as to if Males is perhaps thought-about a feminist horror film, although the pathetic spiral of the male characters is noticed with what appears extra like sorrowful pity than judgment, regardless of the story’s dizzying descent into the grotesque.
The Backside Line
A mind-bending dissection of manhood.
The truth that the end result is huge open to totally different interpretations makes Males a extra ambiguous work than Garland’s sci-fi horror hybrids, Ex Machina and Annihilation. It’s additionally extra menacing and viscerally creepy.
That’s due in no small half to the visuals of the director’s common DP, Rob Hardy, with stately compositions steadily giving solution to lurching chaos. Of equal significance is the enveloping sound design of Glenn Freemantle, a diabolical aural assault that mixes a pure world each serene and oppressive with a nerve-jangling rating by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, which attracts choral inspiration from early non secular music. These parts are fed instantly by Harper’s personal voice, singing right into a stone-walled tunnel to check the echo, or screaming in ache as a reminiscence intrudes on her solitude in a church.
Christian and pagan worlds co-exist within the medieval village to which Harper retreats, offering one other enigmatic layer to a narrative that defies tidy clarification however positively leaves you pondering.
The much less you already know about Males getting in, the higher. However the fundamental set-up is a newly widowed lady in search of peace after witnessing a stunning tragedy. The picture of Harper’s husband James (Pappa Essiedu) falling from the highest of their modern London house constructing by the Thames breaks into her ideas at random moments, with the strain of their ultimate argument — she is adamant that divorce is their solely possibility; he begs her to rethink, threatening to kill himself if she refuses — slowly revealed in fragments.
Harper drives alone to the nation home nestled in verdant woodlands the place she plans to spend two weeks recuperating. At first, she appears mildly amused by the clumsy humor of the proprietor, Geoffrey (Kinnear); he makes a joke in regards to the visitor serving to herself to an apple from the tree, a symbolic nod that’s additionally a wink from Garland. Nonetheless, she’s visibly anxious to be achieved with the tour and get unctuous Geoffrey out so she will start some much-needed alone time. However the deep crimson partitions trace that this is not going to be a super place for restoration and rest.
A stroll alongside the outdated railway monitor quickly shifts her temper from calm to alarm when she sees a unadorned, dirt-smeared man watching her from a distance. That silent stranger reappears all through, reworking into the English mythological determine of the Inexperienced Man as he inserts leaves and twigs into the injuries on his face and physique, turning into the foliage-clad manifestation of the cycle of life, demise and rebirth.
The extra atypical male mortals that inhabit the city — girls are invisible, apart from one police officer (Sarah Twomey) — are solely marginally much less irksome, even when their micro-aggressions initially appear much less of a menace. They embrace a vicar whose intimate physique language appears presumably harmless till he begins interrogating Harper about her function in James’ demise; a troubled schoolboy in a Marilyn Monroe masks named Samuel, who turns nasty when Harper declines to play conceal and search; a self-important cop; a standard-issue nation publican; and a mullet-headed thug or two. Garland knowingly toys with the “ultimate woman” trope by making Harper nearly the solely woman.
The director’s actual stroke of genius, nonetheless, was to have all these male characters performed by Kinnear — with a virtuoso vary of bodily and vocal modulation, professional assist from the make-up and hair division, and a digital help in a single case. They’re fractured facets of the identical man, all hiding their insecurities behind masks of civility, sanctity or authority, ruggedness or rudeness. When Geoffrey volunteers to look the grounds round the home for an intruder, he blurts out his father’s phrases to him at age 7 — “You could have exactly the qualities of a failed navy man” — earlier than getting down to show the outdated man incorrect in what appears a lifetime’s futile quest.
As soon as strains begin to dissolve between the Inexperienced Man and Geoffrey, the vicar and Samuel, Harper has solely her personal resolve for cover, a state of affairs Buckley imbues with a tightrope steadiness between terror and resourcefulness. She recoils in worry from the lads, who seem to worry her simply as a lot, regardless of their threatening angle. Male efficiency in the end loses out, with males enfeebled by their need whereas girls stay self-possessed, dominated by intelligence and acute protection mechanisms.
All this performs out with profuse blood, carnage (you’ll by no means have a look at the mail slot in an English entrance door the identical manner once more) and a jaw-dropping show of subversive reproductive imagery which may have devolved into silliness in a script with much less on its thoughts. The physique horror prosthetics are gruesomely efficient, recalling the classic Cronenberg of The Brood. However what’s most distinctive in regards to the movie’s climactic mayhem is the surprising compassion it attracts out in Harper, maybe conscious of the helplessness of males doomed to maintain reliving their crippling flaws and not possible wants for eternity.