Filmmaker Alex Garland has two recurring themes: Isolation, and men. Well, gender, more specifically, but men and the domineering ways masculinity exerts itself plays a critical role in his acclaimed work. Garland’s new horror film, Men, due in theaters May 20, looks similar except for one critical difference.
Plot details are light, but the gist is that a young woman, played by Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter), embarks on a solo trip to rural England after the loss of her ex-husband (Rory Kinnear, Spectre). Buckley’s character seems more haunted by her ex than grieved. The traditional horror movie tropes of ghostly figures over yonder and peering through locked doors indicate a man intruding on a woman’s space, and the harsh red lighting in certain scenes further illustrates the hostile nature this spirit may have.
Of course, this is all speculation based on a 90 second teaser. There’s hardly any dialogue, so there’s no real clues as to what relationship Buckley’s character had with her ex-husband. Is she mourning? Or fleeing something?
Whatever the answers, Men is shaping up to be Alex Garland’s most interesting work yet, and maybe his most essential. While Garland’s writing credits include 2002’s 28 Days Later and 2010’s Never Let Me Go, he broke out as a director with his 2014 science fiction film Ex Machina, a scathing and cerebral critique of the masculine energies running amok in the tech industry. Four years after Ex Machina, Garland followed up with Annihilation, an adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel about a group of scientists who enter a dangerous isolation zone full of bizarre mutations.
Like Ex Machina, the film offers Garland a chance to observe gender, which he does through a flipped lens. It’s not men who enter the eerie and dangerous “Shimmer” but women, accredited experts carrying assault rifles.
Ex Machina and Annihilation are fundamentally different pictures, but Garland’s artistry means the two share a lot of the same thematic DNA. While Ex Machina concerned a secluded space ruled by a man who engineers idealized womanlike robots for his pleasure, Annihilation saw women reclaim a space in roles typically reserved for men.
Both are also science fiction stories, which is how and why Garland’s Men will potentially stand apart. The teaser has a lot of Garland’s touchstones without the veneer of sci-fi to filter through. Maybe Garland can get right to the heart of his favored themes without more outlandish elements like talking robots and mutant deer in the frame.
Men is still a genre picture, however. The trailer makes it clear it’s a horror movie in conversation with everything from A Nightmare on Elm Street to Midsommar. Men could involve anything, from a bad dream to a vengeful spirit to a cursed spot of land that the film’s main character unluckily stumbled upon. For now though, Men is striking because it shows audiences a basic fear: Men making weird faces.
Men will be released in theaters on May 20.