Men review: A fever dream fable with elements of jaw-dropping body horror

Jessie Buckley plays a recent widow who is struggling to escape from her traumatic past (Picture: AP)

Novelist turned film director Alex Garland’s 1990s debut bestseller, The Beach, was all about a tainted paradise.

There’s another corrupted Eden at the heart of Men, a deliciously weird fever dream fable with elements of jaw-dropping body horror.

Jessie Buckley stars as Harper, a recent widow, who retreats to heal in the English countryside after her abusive husband’s (Paapa Essiedu) suicide.

She rents a sprawling cottage, complete with roll-top bath and lovely drawing room, from a red-trousered type called Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear).

But instead of shaking off her traumatic past, Harper finds herself literally stalked by it.

Her sanctuary is invaded by a mute naked man from the woods, while the village is populated entirely by men with freakishly similar faces (Kinnear x 10).

Men, eh? They’re all the same, is what we’re saying here. Thankfully, there’s more going on than this #MeToo metaphor.

Even if it’s possibly too underdeveloped – after all, there’s a fine line between challenging viewers to bring their own interpretations and just plain confusing them.

Paapa Essiedu plays Harper’s abusive husband (Picture: AP)

Harper finds herself stalked by village full of men who all look like Rory Kinnear (Picture: AP)

What’s not in any doubt is Garland’s gift for twisting genre to uniquely unsettling effect.

Men is finest when it’s a full-on folk horror, not a feminist statement. A preoccupation with olde pagan forces brings echoes of The Wicker Man and the work of Nicolas Roeg.

However, the vivid look is unmistakably lensed by Garland and his long-term director of photography Rob Hardy (Ex Machina) who bring serious mood vibes to the too-lush forest, where a deer corpse decomposes against evil green moss. 

Tonally, there’s a whiff of The League Of Gentlemen about Kinnear’s more amusing characters, including a handsy vicar who boasts a very creepy way with a chapstick.

And Buckley is, as ever, utterly brilliant, keeping you emotionally invested in this increasingly far-out fairytale. 

Her Harper is alternately terrified and eye-rollingly bored by the toxic men attempting to stifle her.

As to the ending, well… you’ll never un-see it.


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