My Least Favourite A24 Film So Far

Men is a folk horror film written and directed by Alex Garland, who previously helmed the quintessential cosmic horror film Annihilation. However brilliant that film was, it is worth pointing out that it was not an original idea of Garland’s as it was based on a book series by Jeff VanderMeer. I point this out because Men is an original story by Garland, and while he came up with a great idea and, for the most part, told it very well, to me, he did not think the ending out very well.
Men tells the story of a woman named Harper, whose husband has died and decides to heal in the countryside of England for a week or two. Before her husband’s death, however, Harper was initiating a divorce due to their marriage not working out. Her husband, in turn, threatened to kill himself and, while attempting to get back into the home, fell from their balcony, and it is unknown if this was an accident or if he did commit suicide. The memory of seeing each other as he fell haunts Harper throughout the film’s duration.
When I watched the film, I was perplexed by the film’s mixing of mythologies. The film explicitly references the Adam and Eve myth in symbolism and a throwaway line about forbidden fruit. But then, one of the central villains is a depiction of the Green Man from pagan mythology.
But after I watched the film and researched the Green Man more, I realised that the folkloric figure had been integrated into British churches as part of their art. And this detail is included in the film, and one of the “men” is a prick of a priest.
Now, this is a horror film, so was it scary? It’s not one of A24’s more provocative horrors, but it was uniquely stylistic in its horror, as to be expected from Garland at this point. I was unnerved and increasingly disturbed as the film went on.
Now, I will be dropping some spoilers from this point, so if you haven’t seen it yet, this is your warning.
Initially, I was a bit suspicious about watching this film. That’s because this film is about gender and because the trailer made it seem very Adam and Eve inspired; it appeared to be a binary take on gender. This is fine, but I must admit that the film, even as I was watching, felt like it was from a completely different time. Probably because, at times, the way misogyny is presented is very cartoonish, reminding me heavily of the much better social commentary 1975 film adaptation of The Stepford Wives. Also, Jessie Gender’s excellent video on The Handmaid’s Tale has shaped my reasons for feeling suspicious about the binary cis-centric take on gender in media. Worth checking out.
I was, however, somewhat impressed, at least in concept, by the fact that the titular men of the movie who are revealed to all be one character is a man with a womb. This is a technically true thing. Men with wombs are being included in the man question. And yes, this suits the Green Man’s mythology because this particular creature is known as a spirit of rebirth.
At the end of the film, the men’s final form is when it gives birth to Harper’s ex-husband. Throughout the last act, the men and the Green Man have been attacking her in an effectively intense home invasion scene, and at one point, the priest form of the men nearly rapes Harper. And in flashbacks, it was revealed that Harper’s ex hit her at one point, though it is also clarified that this was the only time he ever got physical with her. The movie tries to paint her ex as someone who was complicated, with a history of self-harm, but who would then weaponise that self-harm to keep Harper in their relationship. Effectively their relationship was psychologically abusive.
I think it was foolish of the film to have this character effectively resurrected. First, the film does not foreshadow or indicate how this could be possible. There is no set-up, no plantings, and no reminders.
And the film shows the two characters sitting in a room together with Harper’s ex, still blaming her for his death. And that’s it. The movie does not portray anything except that in terms of how Harper’s trauma and horror are resolved. We know Harper survives afterwards as her friend appears the next day, and we see her in a peaceful state. But we never find out if she finally killed him or if they just talked it out and finally both got their closure. I got the impression that maybe the film was trying to suggest that this was all just imaginary, and if that is the case, then I loathe it.
For the most part, I found this to be a well-directed film, visually unique enough, but it becomes a detriment. Around the film’s middle, a shot of a deer’s corpse slowly zooms into the eye and then comes back out, revealing the deer to now be decomposed. This shot has absolutely nothing to do with the film; it is a film full of lazy attempts at creating meaning without connection. In the past, I have only ever enjoyed what I have seen from A24, though obviously, I have not seen everything by them before, but as such, it was only a matter of time before I finally came across my first A24 mediocrity. And Men is my first disappointment from A24.

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jasonnebulaar

Pop-culturalist historian. You can also find me on YouTube as jasonnebulaar where I’ll be uploading hopefully regularly.