‘Men’ review: Alex Garland’s Latest High-Concept Horror Movie

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. It takes a series of flashbacks scattered throughout the story to reveal the complexities of that death, which may have been a suicide, and of the marriage itself, which was already in serious trouble. You sense that Harper is trying, in part, to outrun a sense of guilt. It doesn’t work out that way. Her demons follow her.

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.

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It clear that Men has points to make, and it makes them insistently, striving toward a knowingness and a sense of correctness that’s admirable but not quite as jangly and fucked up as when it goes off the rails. On the other hand, when it goes off the rails, you might start to miss when it had a more decipherable point, even if its means of getting there were a little too easy. As a movie about the subjective fears of a woman on her own, being hunted or haunted by male violence both commonplace and supernaturally eerie, the movie basically works: Your heart races, you’re skeeved out, you’re crawling out of your skin. As a movie about why those men are the way they are, which is an idea that occupies a substantial chunk of its runtime, well… And as a movie about the actual woman in question.