The last time something with Men in the title was this successful, Charlie Sheen had just been booted off the television. Nobody really knows what that means, certainly not somebody who has stumbled into their chair after a three-hour power nap to prepare for catching up on last year’s backlog of feature films. Not even an interesting one, just a film that has Rory Kinnear present and playing multiple roles. Jessie Buckley is the glue holding this Alex Garland-directed feature together. Her portrayal of Harper and the inevitably personal grief which flows through such a character and ties to the demonic surroundings of Kinnear turning in a portrayal equivalent to that of Split without the twist, is solid stuff. A24 hit and miss with no middle ground. Men is the latter.
Stood in the sun-kissed kitchen and not quite knowing how to react to some mildly bloody fallout comes a sense of tension. Like dandelions in the wind, Garland hopes to stretch the fear of death to the flowing breeze of inevitable change and impossible nature. Nobody can change what happens to others although the clumsy and inarticulate, musically-guided opening to Men truly believes individual changes of the heart are enough to guide broken souls to promising new beginnings. Garland does capture the modern middle-class style of country getaways and how out of touch each is to their surroundings and conversations. It is hard to maintain a conversation with someone dressed for a cheese festival when it is readily bought in Tesco.
Folk horror is gained not earned then, because all that is needed is a country setting and a seemingly untoward and tense feeling stemming from a modern culture divide. All roads lead to scrumping. Although Garland guns for some utterly beautiful and definitively chilling moments, carried well by Buckley and Kinnear, he bites off more than he can chew. Kinnear, with the long locks and flushed face dressed as the village vicar is far more sinister than the untoward and unconvincing momentum of the supernatural and strange turns expected of the folk horror genre. Trees and nature are horrifying, as is the out-of-touch villagers akin to a demonic, Straw Dogs force. All of it is there for the taking but it does not come together as it could, nor as it should. We are terrorised by grief; Garland tries and fails to turn it fatal.
Garland’s nosedive has been a tragic case of over-extending in a patch of wrought and frequently changing social consciousness. His fear of A.I. was ahead of the curve ever so slightly. Men is too far behind the creepy halls of a manor estate. Sleuth got there half a century ago and there is little to improve on by giving Kinnear some false teeth and Buckley a penchant for nicking apples from trees. Such is the carefree spirit, the little sprinklings of story and the choreography which follows, the colourful castle of which the soul is freed. All a load of pontification which leads nowhere in particular beyond grief. Scrumping? On the grounds of the good estate? It feels as though Garland has gone truffling in the forest of knowledge, plucking ideas from the floor as all the best ones have been gobbled up and spat out by Charlie Brooker, for acidic apples are not to his taste anymore, but bleak and dull horrors of the human mind and artificial conception are.