It starts when she eats the apple, reaching toward temptation like a modern-day Eve, that carnal queen. Whether this act in itself actually spells the downfall of man, or merely promises mens’ ruin by working them into a froth over who to blame for that ruin, is, I guess, up for debate. A useful thing about Alex Garland’s new movie, Men, is that it’s made up its mind on the subject. There’s a lush, buxom, unembarrassed history of men believing that the failures of their own lives are the fault of women — a fate handed down from on high, for many people, by the story of our creation. Men seems to find this is a little pathetic. It thinks that the men who believe as much are pathetic. Every contour of its gross-out gore and emotional laceration, its repulsive visual tricks and humorous, winking jabs, seems to turn on this disgust, which, in turn, has a habit of reducing the men depicted in this movie down to mewling, needy bundles of projection, overcompensation, and wavering mental health.
Men, stripped down to the essentials, is a movie about a woman trying to mind, and handle, her business. Harper is looking to escape her life for two weeks with a sojourn to the country. She has rented out a grand, 500-year-old country house in what is effectively the middle of nowhere — carried there, in part, by tragedy. Her husband, James (Paapa Essiedu), has died; this is the first thing we see in the movie.
Men is the kind of movie to literalize those demons, mostly in the form of a man, performed by surprisingly malleable Rory Kinnear, who plays a cruel, spooky trick on her. The mechanics of that trick are best left to the movie. Suffice it to say that you’ll start to feel like you’re seeing Kinnear’s face everywhere — because you are. On the faces of a child, a vicar, a cop; sometimes threatening, other times more timid, but with a clear sense of ulterior motives. There is nothing creepier or more effective in Men than a nude man’s sudden, unwelcome appearance in the English countryside, looming and staring and silent, giving all the impression of wanting to be seen, wanting to violate the woman who’s looking, in the context of a movie that inflicts this act on its audience in the same moment.