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Men is weird, unsettling, and engaging 

Alex Garland (writer-director of Ex Machina and Annihilation and writer of 28 Days Later ...) helms this psychological horror film about Harper (Jessie Buckley), who after a personal tragedy travels to a country estate to get away and process her loss. Once there, however, rather than healing, she encounters a series of men (all played by Rory Kinnear), who torment her further. (100 min.)

click to enlarge THE GARDEN OF EDEN? Jessie Buckley stars as Harper, a young woman trying to overcome a terrible loss during a vacation to the countryside, but instead she encounters a series of sinister men, in Men, screening at local theaters. - PHOTO COURTESY OF A24 AND DNA FILMS
  • Photo Courtesy Of A24 And DNA Films
  • THE GARDEN OF EDEN? Jessie Buckley stars as Harper, a young woman trying to overcome a terrible loss during a vacation to the countryside, but instead she encounters a series of sinister men, in Men, screening at local theaters.
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Glen What did my eyeballs just see? Holy moly, this is a weird, challenging, unique film about a woman processing grief and guilt. It's also about misogyny and all the ways men manipulate, gaslight, and abuse women. When Harper arrives at the rented country house, she's greeted by Geoffrey (Kinnear, in one of his many roles), who manages the rental. He notices she's bitten into an apple from the tree in the yard. "Mustn't do that," he says. "Forbidden fruit." It's his idea of a joke and the beginning of a long series of disconnected interactions between Harper and the various men—and in one case a young boy with Kinnear's CGI face—she encounters during her "vacation." It's a really unusual piece of filmmaking from a gifted director, and (warning!) it's punctuated with some very disturbing and gory images and a deeply unsettling overall vibe. I'm glad I saw it, but it's not going to be everybody's cup of tea.

Anna If the divide between the audience score and critics' score on Rotten Tomatoes is any indication, not everyone's cup of tea is right. Personally, I was riveted by this film, but that certainly doesn't mean it was a pleasant watch. Harper is haunted and also in urgent need to move on from the tragedy of her husband's death, a death that came as she was desperately trying to leave the relationship. Her guilt around it all is crushing, and in many ways this movie seems to me to be a showcase of the monsters and beasts that trauma creates. Harper is there to heal, yet she can't seem to be left alone. Around every corner is another man—whether it is the naked, boil-covered stalker in the garden of her rented home, the vicar who betrays her when she shares her vulnerability, or the boy who turns into a snarling ass when Harper refuses a game of hide-and-seek. I have to give props to Kinnear here. He took on a lot in this film, and he manages to evoke an unsettling terror as the face of all men in this country English village. Buckley is superb as Harper as well; you can feel her fear through the screen.

Glen It's worth mentioning that the gore notwithstanding, this is a truly beautiful looking film. Garland once again teamed with cinematographer Rob Hardy, who worked with him on Ex Machina and Annihilation. They're currently filming Garland's next film, Civil War. I wish I knew what it was going to be about, but the plot's under wraps. I'll definitely watch anything Garland does. Men is absolutely uncomfortable viewing, which may be driving its low Rotten Tomatoes audience score. Still, Hardy's camerawork and the English countryside in which Men is set is breathtaking. There's a dreamy, unreal, fantasy quality about the film, as if what we're seeing isn't real but instead we're inside Harper's head as she works through her trauma. If you have the courage, see it!

Anna It is so beautiful! The juxtaposition of the gore alongside the beauty of the countryside and the house itself is really arresting. While I totally think this film is worth watching, it may be a tricky one to recommend to everyone. I think there are a lot of people who just aren't going to like how visceral it gets, and there is a whole lot of "what is going on?" while the movie plays out. Admittedly, even days later I'm still working at laying all the puzzle pieces into place. I'm a big fan of Garland, so I'm with you on watching anything he puts out. He has a knack at creating unsettling universes in his films, and Men is no exception. This film took some really wild turns, especially at the end, and it's one I won't stop thinking about for a while. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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