Entertainment

Alex Garland's 'Men' Is Your New Nightmare Fuel

The film from A24 starring Jessie Buckley comes out May 20.

A24
A24
A24

The title of Alex Garland’s Men is part deliberate provocation. Anecdotally, I’ve heard tell of members of that gender being turned off by the notion of a horror movie that seemingly presents them, generally, as villains. (That, in itself, is laugh-worthy.) But the title is also deliciously obscure. Yes, the haunts of the Ex Machina and Annihilation director are cisgendered males with penises, but the evil at play is something more ancient. Men is also a shorthand for mankind as in humanity, as in all of us.

Like most of Garland’s work, there is something primal at play that resists easy interpretation just as Garland resists explaining his motivations, on screen or off. On one hand, the film is almost aggressively straightforward: A woman (Jessie Buckley), reeling from the traumatic death of her husband, who she witnessed falling off their apartment building in a probable suicide, arrives at beautiful country estate for a retreat. Instead of relaxation in her rented manor, she’s tormented by a series of locals, all portrayed with eerie glee and prosthetics by Our Flag Means Death‘s Rory Kinnear.

And yet as you watch there’s something gnawing at you that this is no simple monster movie, a suspicion that’s confirmed in the terrifying and gruesome finale. At the same time, you’re left wondering whether Men is any deeper than its startles, and whether that even matters when you’re left with imagery so potent it crawls under your skin and lingers there for days.

Opening with the sounds of Elton John’s uncharacteristically folksy “Love Song,” Men plunges its audience into the psyche of its heroine, Harper, played by the magnificent Buckley, proving once again her talent cannot be understated. Flashbacks to the fateful argument with her husband, James (Paapa Essiedu) are bathed in a blood red filter, the twilight of memory tinged with violence. Her trip to the pastoral lands outside London are an attempt to free her mind from what transpired. Harper and James fought. James plunged. Harper watched it happen.

A24
A24
A24

At the estate she’s greeted by Geoffrey, the first we see of Kinnear’s doppelgängers, a ruddy faced and disconcertingly jolly Englishman in a Barbour jacket. The peace he’s promised is short lived. When she goes on a walk through the woods she finds herself stalked by a naked man, also Kinnear. His skin festers and his far off gaze grows nearer and nearer.

Like he did with the landscapes of Annihilation, Garland takes natural beauty and twists it so it becomes evident there is a mutation growing underneath. Here, the town Harper visits could be out of Nancy Meyers’ The Holiday for all its quaint trappings, but here they are infused with malice. In the palace where Harper seeks refuge, the medieval “Green Man” carvings, all but scream out. Her pain and the manifestations of it are ancient and restless. Garland’s frequent collaborators, composers Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, give a voice to these stone creatures with their wailing score.

Garland alternates between familiar slasher motifs and the surreal imagery and body horror that has become his hallmark. Kinnear’s various personas are rendered with varying degrees of verisimilitude. There’s something almost deliberately false about the CGI that’s used to transform him into a bratty schoolboy or the teeth protruding from Geoffrey’s mouth. The actor, seemingly having the time of his life, is comically impish in his pursuit of Buckley, who melds final girl resoluteness with the terror of her own guilt. Occasionally, Garland’s desire to let audience members figure things out for themselves can be frustrating. The scenes from Harper’s past are galling, but Essiedu’s performance is undercut by the lack of context around James’ actions.

As Men creeps toward its conclusion, the menace sometimes appears in the rote ways men assert their powers over women. There’s the child who calls Harper a “stupid bitch” when she won’t play with him and the vicar who massages her knee when consoling her. There’s the cop, who ignores her concerns. All of Garland’s films, in one way or another, center on gender. In Ex Machina, an inventor (Oscar Isaac) builds robotic women; in Annihilation, an all-female team ventures into an alien-occupied area that has destroyed the men who came before them. Men is the bluntest of these allegories.

The recognizable threats are almost deceptively minor compared to the bigger sensation at play, and Garland’s message isn’t as simple as “men are bad.” What he plumbs is the neediness of these ghouls, who are looking for mothers and lovers and friends. Still, Men is craggier than Garland’s other work, less sure of its intent and choppy in its genre swerves. And yet the potency of its images, gooey and tangible, are nightmare fuel for whoever dares watch.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.

Entertainment

'Top Gun: Maverick' Is the Perfect Adrenaline Rush

Tom Cruise's sequel brings the charms of the original classic into the modern era.

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

What does it take to make a great action drama? Fighter jets. Kenny Loggins music. Tom Cruise. In 1986, Top Gun, perhaps the ultimate “guys being dudes” action movie set within a training school for the Navy’s best fighter pilots, patented this formula, and added in a bunch of sweaty guys playing beach volleyball and an iconic love scene to seal the deal. Top Gun‘s massive popularity made the announcement of a sequel seem the most natural thing in the world, if not the most exciting: an elder Tom Cruise handing the reins off to a new generation of elite actors. If that’s what you’re expecting, you’re in for a surprise. Top Gun is a classic. Top Gun: Maverick does everything Top Gun did and more.

It’s been thirty-six years since Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) completed his TOPGUN program, but he’s far from the decorated officer he was destined to become by the end of the first movie. He’s dodged every promotion he could dodge, working as a test pilot flying hypersonic stealth jets for the military, but the specter of unmanned drones looms ever closer, spelling the end for an entire era of warfare. Not so fast, though-Maverick is called back to a certain fighter training school as an instructor, tasked with putting together a team of the best of the best to complete a bombing run involving some absurdly complex flying maneuvers at high speed much too close to the ground in enemy territory. If you will, an impossible mission.

The new crop of airmen, now flying F/A-18 Hornets instead of F-14 Tomcats, are kids in Maverick’s eyes, and he shows up to teach them what’s what, inventing training exercises to test their mettle and teach them how to fly as a team. It’s not going to be easy, with the egos of pilots like “Hangman” (Glen Powell), “Fanboy” (Danny Ramirez), “Coyote” (Greg Tarzan Davis) and “Phoenix” (Monica Barbaro) repeatedly clashing as they struggle to work together. And there are two more problems: He only has a few weeks to train these kiddos up to fly a mission from which they might not all return, and one of his students, sullen Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), is the son of Maverick’s old flying partner Goose, who tragically died in the first movie. Not to mention reconnecting with an old flame, single mother Penny (Jennifer Connelly), who manages the local bar and is not about to fall yet again for a guy who’s left her more than once. You see where this is going.

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

The movie begins with a collection of the greatest hits of its predecessor, including but not limited to a montage of jets landing on an aircraft carrier lit by the golden light of the sun, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” and Maverick defying orders to do something with an aircraft that nobody’s ever done before. This is, after all, a movie that will have more than a few similarities to the one that came before. After that, though, the engines kick into gear (I apologize if this car metaphor doesn’t also work for planes), and Top Gun: Maverick starts to try out a few new tricks.

The interpersonal relationships between the characters are fun and fully realized (Maverick’s perpetual battle of egos with his commanding officer, a Vice Admiral known as “Cyclone” (Jon Hamm) is a highlight) and there’s just enough downtime between white-knuckle action to really get to know everyone. The sweaty beach game returns, but the macho posturing is toned down, given that we live in a new millennium and one of the main pilots is a woman. Val Kilmer reprises his “Iceman” for a touching scene. All of this is complemented by unbelievable flying sequences that will genuinely leave you breathless, each lightning-fast dogfight game and training simulation grander and faster than the last. This is the type of film to see as big and loud as possible.

But, as the original was, Top Gun: Maverick is also simply a straight-up great time at the movies. It makes the act of being a good movie look like the easiest thing in the world, with director Joseph Kosinski showing off everything he’s got. (Yes, you should give Tron: Legacy another shot.) Because “the enemy” is never named, as in the first movie, it is comfortably apolitical (if you disregard the fact that the jets Maverick eventually goes up against are Russian, and what a boon the original Top Gun was for U.S. military recruitment programs), and even though the whole movie is working towards a life-or-death wartime mission, it never forgets that its purpose is to thrill and excite. Great action movies aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Like a good wingman, Top Gun: Maverick swoops in to save the day.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.

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