Expelling your ex through folk horror

Alex Garland normally operates at the intersection of science fiction and horror. Think of Ex Machina (2014), an intellectual and then also physical joust between a tech billionaire, an IT specialist and a seductive robot. Or Annihilation (2018), an alienating mix of Tarkovsky’s stalker and Lovecraft’s novella The Color Out Of Space in which flesh and spirit become liquid.

The latter also happens in men, and how. Garland’s modus operandi is British folk horror this time: beneath our comfortable modern existence lurks a deeper layer of ancient magic and moldy evil. The bucolic innocence of ‘Little England’ is a facade, impending doom manifesting itself in runes, idols or sectarian music.

Also read the interview with lead actress Jessie Buckley: ‘I’m not interested in average films’

check; in men so you soon realize that the fragile Harper (Buckley) is in trouble. She rents an antique farmhouse to deal with trauma and guilt, her husband James (Essiedu) threw himself out a window. To the landlord Geoffrey (Kinnear), everything is a bit wrong: timing, laughs, jokes. His fellow villagers – creepy kid, judgmental priest, rude cop, gruff innkeeper – don’t get any better: Harper has landed in a hell of hostile machismo. If a naked wild man flies at her in a tunnel – metaphor for the other side – then things derail surprisingly smoothly from oppressive discomfort to undulating madness, hectic violence and body horror.

The phantasmagoria men is, given the title, intended as a feminist parable; a gruesome birth sequence in the finale gives the impression that sterile pathology hides behind male display of power. Fans of Alex Garlands Ex Machina won’t be surprised. The flashbacks to the toxic relationship with James, increasingly linked to Harper’s ‘reality’, suggest that we are in her nightmare: her retreat is then a kind of exorcism. But the ambivalent men invites you to shake your head in astonishment after the game. You must have been through something.

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