Alex Garland at his best is one of the most engaging and propulsive genre screenwriters out there. His ability to combine this with enough metaphorical and interpretive elements to please the analysis over emotional response viewer might be his secret weapon. His slightly ponderous FX mini-series Devs was something of a step back. On paper, Garland’s third feature as director is still an exciting prospect. Jessie Buckley plays a woman on an idealistic journey to a British countryside village. When she gets there she finds herself in an entirely male-populated area. All the characters demonstrate traits of toxic masculinity and are all portrayed by the same actor ( Rory Kinnear.) Cue attempted metaphors.
No beating around the Bush. Men gets a few creativity points for somewhat wild swings within the third act. That said this viewer despises the piece otherwise Imagine throwing most of Garland’s creative credentials out the window. Instead, replace his directorial vision with a hollowed-out husk whose only knowledge of modern genre filmmaking relates to furiously worshipping at the altar of Ari Aster for the thousandth time. They then decamp to Reddit and deliver their interpretation of the various meanings and messages to an audience of increasingly out-of-touch neckbeards. They then wait for the latest Film Festival flavour of the month to come down the pipe to appeal to an audience of no one outside their specific bubble. A selection of Garland’s previous work also cultivated this audience but there was a level of organicness in terms of weaving this within the text of the narrative. how they gained an audience. Now Garland and his creative team know exactly how to tailor their work to this audience. These watchers would not know what any degree of populism in filmmaking look like if it slapped them in the face like a wet fish.
Trapped in this excruciatingly pretentious endurance test are two commendable performances from Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear. They are at least trying to sell a script that has nothing to say and takes a long time to say it over a decidedly overstretched 100 minutes. Bezel so the question of whether it’s a good idea to trap an up-and-coming British Oscar nominee in a film fundamentally meant to be an examination of the male gaze that yet was assembled by a creative team with mostly Y chromosomes. This is a thornier issue and a different discussion.
There may be some level of mildly grotesque spectacle in the film’s climax There are admittedly flashes of what makes Alex Garland such an effective genre writer. That said one also has to factor in that given how the narrative has played up until this point it also is indicative of the most boring way possible this story could have reached its conclusion. The juxtaposition of these two factors makes the third act generally nowhere near as strong as it should be. Given this is the only element of the film worth recommending if one is not willing to put in the time to attempt to evaluate the ridiculously overwrought and pretentiously ponderous metaphors this fact is very disappointing.
The limited merit in the third act may prevent Men from being a true worst of the year contender along with The Bubble and Deep Water. That said it doesn’t prevent it from being the singularly most disappointing film of 2022 thus far. A naked and calculated play for an audience that has no genuine grasp on what general viewers would want to see outside of their specific bubble. A piece that will directly alienate anyone that does not want to earnestly engage with its half-hearted attempts at “deeper” meaning. The two central performers might be trying hard to sell it to the audience but even they can’t effectively elevator the film beyond the realm of thinking it’s much smarter than it is. Unless one belongs to the type of online film communities that benefit most from a feature like Men do not waste any time with it or indulge in any of its eyewatering self-indulgence