Alex Garland is one of the undisputed visionaries of current fantastic cinema. Usually leaning towards science fictionAmong his most notable films are the extraordinary ‘Ex Machina’, the visionary but unsuccessful ‘Annihilation’, the script for the superb ‘Dredd’ (which he is said to have directed without being credited) and, more recently, the brutal ‘Devs’ , perhaps the one that has the most points in common with this ‘Men’ that arrives this week in theaters. However, this new proposal does not move between artificial intelligences, policemen of the future, alternative dimensions or deified programmers.
In fact, ‘Men’ connects with much more traditional ingredients of fantastic cinema: its setting in an English countryside isolated from civilization makes one think of the genre of folk-horror, in films of clash between civilization and the atavistic, such as ‘The Wicker Man’ or ‘Midsommar’. But here Garland does not speak to us of an urbanite lost among pagan rites, but of behaviors so rooted in our DNA that they can be traced to where the social rhymes with the ancestral.
The protagonist of ‘Men’ is a woman who, after having watched her husband commit suicide, retires to spend some time in isolation in a rented house in the countryside. One day, on a walk, she discovers that someone is following her. Soon, her encounters with strangers reveal a larger and more consequential problem, one for which no man seems to be able to help her: not her landlord, not the local priest, not the police.
It is difficult to go into more details of ‘Men’ without blowing up its secrets, although the film has an absolutely frontal symbology and without folds. Harper’s journey, played with unusual sensitivity and closeness by a magnificent Jessie Buckley, is that of a woman who discovers that all the abuse she receives day after day from men -from the most ordinary to the most extreme- have a same root. To signify it, Garland employs a gorgeous, chameleon-like Rory Kinnear.
It’s raining men
There will be those who wonder if it makes sense that a film like this has been written and directed by a man (as much as it is a man who has populated his cinema with very interesting and complex female characters, from Ava from ‘Ex Machina’ to Lily from ‘Devs’), but perhaps that is what gives him a particularly ruthless character with the masculine condition and her relationship with women. And the almost natural ability of men to turn the lives of many of them into real nightmares.
To tell the story, Garland skirts around different overlapping signs and symbols in search of a claustrophobic atmosphere: Kinnear’s presence is the most significant, but there is more. Very notable is the appearance of Sheela na Gig sculptures with giant female genitalia that may allude to fertility goddesses, pagan vestiges or warnings against female lust. The already famous and very remarkable sequence of the tunnel, the first and highly symbolic encounter with the unknown of the protagonist, easily turns friendly lyricism into banal panic, and the strangeness of its meaning even infects the soundtrack of the film, infected since that moment by the musical notes that star in the scene.
and although the message of the film is absolutely frontal and leaves no room for ambiguity, it is impossible to perceive Manichaeism in Garland’s stance. The fantastic atmosphere that floats in the atmosphere of the entire film is also a sign of a subjective perception of horror on the part of the protagonist, and in the end the possible interpretation of “not all men” is transformed into an acid “not all men, but in the end all men” capable of leaving the most cynical male spectator with a bad body.
The icing on this fabulous show of testosterone insanity is in a show of body horror which makes the metaphor of the film literal, in one of the most devastating horror shows in its purest form in recent years. Thanks to sequences like that, it is clear that ‘Men’ does not walk with half measures: “all men are equal” goes from a stupid commonplace of The Comedy Club to a brutal metaphor of everything that is wrong in the relationships between men and women.
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