A recently widowed young woman finds no peace on her first foray toward recovery in Men.
Torn by the sudden, inexplicable death of her husband, Harper (Jessie Buckley) flees the chaos and complexity of inner-city life for the solitude of the English countryside. Her chosen destination is a seemingly idyllic cottage nestled in a quiet backwater community. It’s managed by Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), a socially awkward, but otherwise accommodating, landlord.
No sooner has she settled into her exile when strange, ever-more-disturbing encounters begin to invade her sabbatical. Harper suddenly feels as if she’s trapped in quicksand. Every attempt to escape the encounters only seems to take her deeper into the darkness.
This is the latest film from writer/director Alex Garland, whose résumé is heavy with curiously offbeat offerings. I rank Ex Machina as one of the better films of the last decade, but I can’t say the same for his follow-up (and last film) — Annihilation. This time around, Garland dispatches the sci-fi elements and goes all in for a fairly straightforward horror tale.
The style of the film is undeniable and will either immediately appeal to or put off its audience. Garland is clearly going for the art house crowd with this one. Just as with his previous efforts, the visuals are superb. It’s impossible to not get lost and unnerved by the claustrophobic world that he creates.
Buckley imbues Harper with the perfect mix of sanity and strength, coupled with an authentic fragility that only surfaces during her most trying circumstances. Playing several varied antagonists, Kinnear deserves just as much praise, if not more. Every one of his characters comes off as unique while, at the same time, being flawlessly effective.
If only the story itself had the same sense of completeness. Much of the plot is laden with subtle and not-so-subtle metaphors that just didn’t resonate with me. I had the sense that I just wasn’t smart enough to keep up with everything. Time and again, I found myself grasping at straws while trying to follow where Garland was leading me. Sure, it’s entirely creepy, but it defeats the purpose to be so incomprehensible. I had this gnawing sense that I was always just a perspective shift or two away from unlocking its inner secrets. It’s the kind of experience that made me wish that the theater sold edibles. I was that desperate to find any means possible to open my mind to other possibilities. In my book, that’s not a recipe for a good film.