Men, the A24 horror movie from Alex Garland, is unfortunate both as an individual work that crashes and burns, and as a follow-up to the writer-director’s sci-fi exploration of trauma and self-destructiveness: the modern masterpiece Annihilation. His new work tackles a few similar themes, repackaging them as isolated folk-horror that initially proves effective (thanks to its lead performances, and a few visual evocations of Lars Von Trier). However, it soon begins to take a thuddingly literal approach to even its most esoteric and abstract ideas, all but explaining them to the camera during scenes where mood and tension begin to feel like afterthoughts. What starts out as an intimate, eerie piece eventually feels like an exercise in self-indulgence, albeit the kind that inspires shrugs and yawns rather than enrapturement, awe, or even the intended discomfort.
The film begins with tragedy, as Harper (Jessie Buckley), her nose bloody and her eyes glazed over in thought, kicks back to attention as a man, James (Paapa Essiedu), falls past her apartment window. For a brief second, their eyes seem to meet, though the specifics of this tale are later revealed to be more complicated than mere happenstance. Sometime later, Harper drives to the lush English countryside where much of the story is set, and where she rents a quiet, rustic cabin to get away for a while. Its owner, Geoffrey (an unrecognizable Rory Kinnear), smiles with uncannily shaped teeth as he shows her around, jesting on the edge of over-familiarity. Perhaps he’s harmless, but the silent beats between his jokes leave lingering doubts.