Men review: “Alex Garlands folk horror is an absolute game-changer”

Alex Garland, maestro of brainy sci-fi thrillers such as Ex Machina and Annihilation, takes a triumphant dive into freaky British folk horror with Men, a surreally gorgeous psychological shocker.

A wildly ambitious and provocative piece, it sets fear bubbling up when Jessie Buckley’s newly widowed Harper arrives for a country break in a picturebook English village, after the violent death of her husband. Outwardly calm, Buckley’s delicate portrayal shows Harper roiling inwardly, as searing flashbacks of James’ body freefalling past their apartment windows flood her with haunting guilt. 

But while Harper seeks healing in nature, the village reveals its horrifying face. Ten of them in fact, all men, all played with real distinction by Rory Kinnear, honing a detailed, skin-creeping character for each awkward toff, skulking schoolboy and pervy vicar. He brings dark, unsettling humour to every bruising encounter with Harper, deftly dodging the Klumps-style absurdity of the CGI’d shared-face premise.

Meanwhile, the film weaves a beautiful but terrifying rural spell around its heroine, ratcheting up the tension. Gloucestershire’s shadowy forests and picturesque pubs are laced with lurking dangers. The village’s eerie church pulses with pagan carvings of the Green Man and grotesque Sheela na gig. No wonder Harper feels heart-hammering unease, as lush wooded walks and relaxation in her posh rental are tainted by a hide-and-seek male stalker and a sinister cleric blaming her for James’ death.

Garland has always turned a critical eye on toxic masculinity (Ex Machina’s tech bros cooking up the ideal AI woman; Annihilation’s women scientists going boldly where men failed). But here the danger men pose to women isn’t a background hum, but a rising scream. Much of Men’s narrative power resides in taking everyday female fears and turning them up to 11, as Kinnear’s sinister male crew crowds in.

As Harper comes under all-out siege, Garland mixes surrealism and classic horror moves – jump scares, chilling chases, Final Girl flintiness – with considerable skill. Consider yourself warned, though, that the film’s jaw-dropping climax is a full-bore Freudian exhibition of extreme body horror which will haunt your every nightmare. Like Mother!’s baby buffet, it’s going to be deeply divisive and endlessly discussed. But no question, Garland’s bold, original version of what horror can be when it swaps tired old tropes for visceral, visionary thrills is an absolute game-changer.

Men is out in cinemas 20 May in the US and 1 June in the UK. For more, check out the most exciting upcoming movies heading your way soon.

The Verdict


5 out of 5

Men review: “Alex Garland’s folk horror is an absolute game-changer”

Buckley and Kinnear bring a terrifyingly trippy battle of the sexes to Garland’s
throat-grabbing folk-horror freakout. Outstanding.

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