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With everything that's gone on in Hollywood and America over the last few years, taking a film and titling it Men could go in a lot of different directions for a movie watcher. Even making it a horror film could give it a few different options for telling a story! When one of the more gifted artist voices is at the helm of such a story that he wrote, then it makes things all the more interesting.
Written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina), Men follows Harper (Jesse Buckley, Beast) as she seeks solace in a small country cottage following the death of her husband. Once she gets to the town of Cotson, she encounters Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear, Skyfall), the caretaker of the cottage she rents, and over the next several days she runs into a vicar, a mischievous teenager, a bartender and police officer among others, all of whom Kinnear portrays as well, all of whom haunt Harper in various ways and levels. Pretty soon we wonder if Harper will make it out of Cotson alive.
Garland has a keen eye and sense of setting the chess pieces on the board for his stories, and has since going back to his screenwriting days. Men shows you the motivation for Harper's retreat, her comfort in it, and even without knowing what is to come of her fate, the feelings are not unlike watching The Shining when Jack brings his family to the overlook. It's kindness but an awkward form of it, one that gives you a fleeting suspicion. There are a couple of scenes that chill you in their simplicity, it's scary!
However, as Men goes on, the moments that presumably are supposed to be scary evolve into moments of weirdness, to the point where my wife (who joined me on the couch to view the end) nailed the ending's silliness, equating it to a key hook of the current fourth season of the comedy series What We Do in the Shadows, and if you've seen both and one of the fewer still reading this, you may be nodding your head vigorously. This tends to cloud the evolution of what Harper's end would seem to be, which Garland ends ambiguously, or so one would think, with something that's simple and perhaps done in rebellious frustration with a studio demand. And if that was the case, bully on him for that to be fair.
As far as performances go, Buckley's is good in carrying the film, and Kinnear's work in assuming all of the people in the town is fascinating in how many different iterations he has to inhabit. Not too many of the men in Men have speaking roles, but Kinnear puts some individuality through each of them, while ironically emanating a layer of dread that Harper's able to glean either immediately or gradually over time, and his workmanship is commendable and helps sell the film's horror.
Well, Men starts out with a promising idea and the gimmick plays out well over the first two acts, but the third act comes and strains enough disbelief to the point where you may even start laughing at something that's designed to be something grandly shocking and terrifying. Something that could (and was) good spun off the rails as the film went on.The Blu-ray:
The 1.85:1 widescreen presentation of the film is stunning for sure. The greens of the English countryside pop, especially against the darkness of the tunnel in the opening few minutes of the film. The palette uses these greens, red and orange and makes them pop without bleeding, and black levels are deep as can be. The film's last third or so is largely in darkness and it handles all of it nicely, with minimal bouts of banding. It looks nice.The Sound:
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround matches its video qualities, starting early on from the song that Harper creates, and the echoes of her tunnel stalker provide an expected and eerie level of sonic dread. Smaller ambient noises sound good and when the film gets larger dynamic moments (maybe the car roaring out and back towards the house, or the score?), surround channels are effective and convincing.The Extras:
The making of on the film, titled "Afterbirth" (24:02), is the only extra on the disc but it's good, as Garland, Buckley and Kinnear get into their thoughts on the story and characters, the themes in the film (and speculation on what they are) as well as the costumes and locations in the piece, and the prosthetic effects for obvious reasons.Final Thoughts:
Like Garland's last film Annihilation, Men has an intriguing stage, which keeps interest going deep into the film. Unlike Annihilation, Men strays from the main component of the story (unless I'm misremembering it) and the ending lacks any interest, to the point of being unintentionally comic. Technically it looks and sounds great, and the only extra in here is decent, and if you're an Alex Garland fan and haven't seen this yet it's worth a look. Maybe you'll like it more than I did.