From the moment the eerie trailer dropped for Men, the folk-horror intrigued the heck out of me. While the title may give some a little chuckle, it seemed poised to be a mind-bending exploration of the female experience. But what succeeds as a slow-burn thriller at the beginning crashes into a bewildering, unsatisfying mess as it approaches its conclusion.
Reeling in the aftermath of a life-changing event, Harper (Jessie Buckley) escapes to the country to heal, renting a house from Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), a slightly eccentric but well-meaning local. After exploring the woods, she comes across a disheveled naked man from a distance, who later shows up at the house and attempts to break in. While it unnerves her, the authorities don’t seem too worried and dismiss him as a drifter.
Though that’s not the only bizarre run-in she will have during her short stay. She meets several other local men who then say very off-putting things to her or showcase odd behavior. While some are easy to dismiss, nothing can prepare her for the horrifying revelation that’s to come.
Men set itself up as a film riddled with allegory, a potentially nuanced dive into how women can be mistreated even in the simplest of interactions. With beautiful cinematography and mesmerizing shots of the English countryside — visually, it nails it.
But the horrors it promises never come to pass. By the third act, it forgoes any semblance of the message it’s trying to get across—whether it’s sexism, grief, or trauma—and instead delivers a pesky conclusion that serves no purpose to the story or makes sense as to how all the pieces connect.
The film’s final moments offer a puzzling sequence that might have hoped to shock and disturb viewers, but instead it’s something so ridiculous and perplexing, it may just leave you busting out in laughter before exclaiming, “That’s it!“
A film with so much potential is instead killed by an underserving conclusion, one that leaves you with more questions than answers — but not in the clever sense. For their part, Buckley and Kinnear do a fantastic job in their performances, the latter flexing his acting game while portraying all the male characters in the film.
Men works best in the moments where nothing pertinent is happening, when it’s focused on visuals, or when it’s riling you as a viewer due to microaggressions Harper is facing. But it’s an unsettling and unsatisfying film by the end, in a way I don’t think they intended.