Premieres: review of “Men: terror in the shadows”, by Alex Garland

Movies about gender violence or the different versions of toxic masculinity seem to appear daily. But there shouldn’t be many like MEN, the new film from writer, filmmaker and screenwriter Alex Garland. The maker of EX MACHINE Y ANNIHILATION uses the various motifs of the horror genre (between the surreal, the folk-horror and the classic “haunted house” tone) to betray them all a bit and create a kind of symbolic manifesto of the terror –and the possible resistance– that they have towards that thing called “men”.

The story is simple and perfect to be filmed in the midst of pandemic limitations since the protagonist is practically one – the great Jessie Buckley – and just a couple of other actors, one of them playing various characters or different versions of oneself. . The first we see appear on screen is James (Paapa Essiedu), the husband of Harper (Buckley), falling into the void in what appears to be a suicide. She watches him fall from the window, bloodied, and a short time later we will see her leave in a car towards the British countryside while she continues to play the same, beautiful and cryptic song initial.

Little by little the film will reconstruct that situation via flashbacks but we all quickly understand that what happened there was a traumatic experience for the woman, who has just rented a huge mansion in Gloucestershire, one of those houses in the middle of nowhere that just by looking at a map one guesses that they will end up being the scene of some things rare. His idea is to work, rest and collect himself, but as soon as the friendly and somewhat annoying owner of the house (Rory Kinnear in the first of his many roles) shows it to him, with all its comforts and luxuries, we know that it cannot end well.

Already on her first walk, Harper gets lost, runs into some abandoned houses and, in the distance, sees a bald, naked man staring at her. She will lose sight of him, but soon the man will reappear and, in short, let’s say that he will be the first of many (priests, policemen, teenagers, local residents) who will be hanging around her with somewhat strange intentions. And they will all be embodied, with the help of digital effects, by Kinnear himself.

MEN plays with the resources of gender to work on all the institutional instances of male violence that women experience –or may experience– throughout their lives. From psychopathic husbands to figures of power and authority who can harm them psychologically (or have harmed them), they all appear here as the film slowly moves to a setting that is more mental than real, more physical manifestation of trauma than reality. “true” experience.

At some point the film will make this transformation more evident, the passage from its most classic version of terror (a woman alone in a house chased by one or more men) to a more extravagant manifestation, if you will, of that horror. The space is deformed, the people too and in a moment we will clearly be in that psychological torture chamber that is the mind of the protagonist. Or so it seems.

That turn is also one of tone. It is no longer a film that frightens the viewer (the traditional one, let’s say) and becomes one in which it is about decoding what is happening or, in other words, what Garland is trying to tell us. . This transition will not be easy and a large part of the public will be left out of the most important decisions. freak taken by the author/director in the last stage of the film, but they are undoubtedly consistent with the theme and tone that he has been proposing from the first minute.

MEN it’s a Buckley and Kinnear show. She, embodying this woman in pain who tries to draw strength from herself and face a situation that overwhelms her mentally and physically, but never playing a victim. And Kinnear, metamorphosing into different characters who may have different appearances and personalities but all have the same goal: to make life miserable for the girl from very different angles and approaches as well. Garland “men” may appear friendly, understanding, kind, aggressive, or downright creepiesbut they always manage to instill in her discomfort or, directly, terror.

Beyond what each viewer thinks about the bizarre forms that the story is taking –in my case, I applaud Garland’s decision to break the norm, although I think that not all the choices made there work– and the metaphor somewhat reductionist core of the proposal, MEN It has some very creative visual ideas, one of the most painful arm and hand injuries I can remember ever seeing, and a disturbing tone that never leaves the viewer. That “fear of men” that many women, and not only women, feel throughout their lives.

Premieres: review of “Men: terror in the shadows”, by Alex Garland – Micropsia