The horror drama film “Men” is a curious case of a work being tremendously intriguing and yet disappointingly confusing. Directed by Alex Garland, the plot follows a woman from London taking a trip to the British pastoral countryside while recovering from a sudden and tragic personal loss. There are quite a few moments in Garland’s work that are visually remarkable and also potent with ideas, but the film’s plot, execution, and purpose in the final few minutes or so perhaps make it a divisive experience. Overall, ‘Men’ does deserve a watch, for its sheer visuals, performances, and build-up into the plot.
Mature Content Warning – Spoilers Ahead
‘Men’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
On a rainy afternoon in London, Harper Marlowe shockingly witnesses her husband James fall to his death from the roof of their apartment building. With a few months probably passed, Harper is seen driving through British countryside roads as she plans to take a break away from her usual city life. She reaches a big and old English country house, parts of which are even five hundred years old, with sprawling gardens and open yards all around it. Harper is let in by the owner of the house, a middle-aged man named Geoffrey, who also seems to be the caretaker of the place. Although the man seems friendly and welcoming, there is an awkward moment between the two as Geoffrey asks about Harper’s husband, even when she seems not to want to address the matter. She simply passes it off, suggesting that she is getting a divorce and has not yet changed her name from “Mrs. Marlowe,” and lets the matter end. After settling into the house, Harper video calls her best friend Riley and tells her of her excitement to finally spend some time all by herself away from her thoughts. With memories of her recent past flooding into Harper’s mind often, her concerning thoughts are soon revealed. For a long time, her marriage with James was going terribly, mostly due to the man’s obstinate and obsessive behavior towards his wife. On the day of the incident, the couple had a horrific disagreement about Harper wanting a divorce, while James kept insisting and pestering her to give her more chances. When his wife refused, James threatened to kill himself and leave Harper with a guilty conscience for the rest of her life. Distressed and scared, Harper had texted her feelings to Riley, but James was infuriated at her discussing her personal matters with her best friend, whom he did not approve of at all, and the man had punched her. Having had enough, Harper had turned James out of the house, and moments later, as she looked out through her balcony, she saw the falling body of James, who she remembers to have looked straight at her.
Keeping all such thoughts away, Harper goes on a solitary walk through the nearby woods and enjoys herself amidst the quiet and peaceful nature. She comes across a long railway tunnel and playfully shouts out, getting amused by the echo of her voice, when suddenly she sees a human figure at the other end. As the figure now starts to run towards her, Harper frightenedly runs back through the forest path towards her vacation house, till she reaches an open field. Here she takes a photo of the open landscape on her phone, but soon sees a strange man, completely naked, standing in the distance and looking at her. She returns to the house and later that evening sends the picture to Riley, but seems to pass off the thought of any possible danger. However, while she is giving Riley a tour of the house on her phone the next day, Harper once again spots the naked man, this time in the apple garden right in front of her house. She is further terrified upon realizing that the backdoor to the house is still open, but manages to shut it in time and decides to call for help.
What All Leads To Harper Having Such Horrific Experiences?
Harper immediately calls the police helpline and reports her situation, as the naked man tries to shove his hand through the letter slot on the closed door to harm Harper. The police shortly arrive and arrest the man, and Harper goes around further exploring the surrounding village. She reaches a church, the spires of which could be seen from her house, and sits close to the altar. Probably seeing the church totally empty, Harper cries out in anguish, grief, and even guilt, as she remembers the incidents in London. Coming out of the building after she gathers herself, she meets a young adolescent boy who asks her to go play hide and seek with him. She refuses, and is instantly called a “stupid bitch” by the boy, and the situation is somewhat controlled by the vicar of the church. The vicar explains to Harper that he had seen her outburst inside the church, and now sits down and listens to her worries. By the end, though, he very clearly suggests that, after all, James’ death was really her fault, and that she should have given him more chances. An infuriated Harper walks away, and as evening falls, she goes to the local pub, possibly to process and unwind from all the strange and uncomfortable experiences she has had so far. At the pub, she meets Geoffrey again, who learns about the naked man arrested at the house from a male policeman who also visits the pub. However, the policeman also briefly reveals that authorities have let the man go by now as they did not seem to think the man (a deranged delinquent, according to him) posed much danger to anyone. Very discomforted by such a strange decision, and also by the strange gawking looks from the other men in the pub, as she was the only woman inside, Harper leaves and walks back to the house. She calls Riley and tells her all of it, and the best friend decides to set out for the place at the earliest and to accompany Harper for the rest of her vacation. But stranger things only begin to happen now, as she tries to send Riley her live location, and her phone shows some weird error twice, and then a strange text from Riley reads that they already know where she is. As the motion-sensor lights on the yard start to go off, Harper sees the policeman, the same one who had been in the pub and also came to her house to arrest the naked man, standing eerily in her front garden. She walks up to him and asks what is happening, but the man strangely disappears when the lights go out and then quickly turns on.
‘Men’s attempt is to give Harper’s emotional and mental feelings and fears a very visible shape, which it does very well until this point. There is no doubt that Harper still lives on with some guilt in her mind about having been the reason for her husband’s death, even though she knows that she is not. Harper’s relationship with the supremely insecure man was stifling and toxic to say the least, with him being suspicious of her and then aggressive towards her when she expressed herself. The woman even seems to keep a certain portion of denial about the incident, as she says that she is not sure whether James slipped and fell from the terrace or actually threw himself down. This denial is built on the very thought of her apparent guilt, though, the very false sense of guilt that had been hammered into her head by James. Unfortunately, this sense or idea of guilt only tries to make its way deeper into her head through all the men that she meets during her idyllic vacation, and this is how “Men” attempts to present a very relatable commentary on the present world and society. During the initial build-up, the men’s remarks and prejudices against Harper, and any woman for that matter, are small and even passable as ignorance. Geoffrey seems to add words like “just where you would expect to find them” while talking about the tea and other kitchen items. With where the film goes from here on, it is hard to imagine that Geoffrey does not also mean that she would be expected to be found in the kitchen along with the utensils and such things. The man also seems to look down upon Harper for her divorced or widowed status, and then makes casual sexist remarks when he hears of the naked intruder. A key element in the film’s very successful presentation up until now is the fact that all the men Harper comes across during her vacation are actually the same man (Rory Kinnear) in different clothes and ages, pertaining to their professions and roles. Geoffrey, the naked man, the policeman, the vicar, and the boy in the church all have the same face, but Harper also does not seem to register or address this at all. This definitely is again a commentary on how many men are alike, and terribly so, while women perhaps take more time to take notice of this, or even if they do, try to look beyond it. All the men try to either take advantage of Harper’s situation or mentally load her with the guilt of being responsible for her husband’s death. The schoolboy, perhaps the scariest of them all, carries with him a blonde woman’s face mask, signifying his hormonal desires of the adolescent age, and outright insults Harper when she turns him down. As the age of the men go up, this insult is replaced or complemented by shaming and sexist sneering, much like in the real world. Director Alex Garland also employs folklore here, and even turns it completely upside down to drive his point. The strange naked man gradually turns himself into a figure with leaves and branches growing around his face. This face is also seen on a stone block inside the church, and in folk legend, it signifies the Green Man, which is a figure that represents rebirth and new life. In “Men,” the image of the Green Man on the stone block in the church is conjoined with the image of a woman on the other side of the stone block, who has her mouth open, her breasts open and bare, and her vagina pulled open by her hands, signifying that she is ready to be the chalice of rebirth and new life. The film turns this into an effective horror show, as the naked man gradually takes on this figure to try and turn Harper into the traditional and docile figure whose (only) purpose is to give birth.
While out in the front garden, Harper suddenly sees all the apples from a tree fall eerily, and she returns inside, where she seems to be attacked by one of the men from the pub. But Geoffrey appears at her front door and claims to be checking whether everything is alright, but he only finds a dead bird inside which had flown through the window glass. After the caretaker leaves, though, the Green Man appears once more on the lawn, this time with more leaves and branches on his face, and he again shoves his hand in through the letter slot. Harper picks up a knife and stabs the hand, which then is pulled out by the man, leaving his entire hand in two slices. An absolute chain of supernatural horrors comes down on Harper, as she sees many of the other forms of the man appear inside the house with the split on their hands. She locks herself up inside the washroom, but the man easily enters it, in the form of the vicar, and directly tells her of his vile thoughts about her, and how he sees her only as a dirty, virtue-less body meant for pleasure. He then attempts to rape her, but Harper somehow stabs him and escapes the house. She enters her car and starts to drive away when she hits Geoffrey and then waits for the man to recover and get up. Much like earlier, Harper fails or refuses to see all the men as one and the same, and trusts Geoffrey at the very end, but he too turns on her. Geoffrey then aggressively pulls her out of the car, takes control of it, and tries to run the car over her. Harper again narrowly escapes and the naked man, now in complete form of the Green Man, appears in front of her.
‘Men’ Ending Explained: Does Harper Survive The Night Of Terrors?
Harper runs back to the house and then looks on with horror as the Green Man breaks his ankle and then seems to grow pregnant, with his belly growing, and then ultimately gives birth to the young adolescent boy (in his exact form). The boy’s body crawls towards the woman, bloats up, as if something is growing inside him, and then it gives birth to the adult vicar. The same thing continues until Geoffrey’s body tears out of the vicar, and from inside Geoffrey’s mouth comes James. James, who is also completely naked and bloodied, like a baby just after birth, sits down on the sofa, and is joined by Harper there. He calls out to the woman, asking her to look at him, to remember how he fell and died, in another attempt to make her falsely feel responsible and guilty. Harper, now visibly tired and done with her heavy mental and emotional anguish, asks James what he wants from her, and he replies that he only wants her love. Harper scoffs at him and rejects him one more time, and the film chooses this exact moment to put its title on the screen for the first time, with big orange letters on the black screen reading out “Men.” It seems absurdly unbelievable how James quite literally turns his wife’s life upside down, even after his death, blaming her for everything bad and wrong that happened to him, and then can say that he only wants her love. However, to think of it from outside the film’s context, such manipulative behavior among men, devoid of any sense of accountability, is not that unheard of. With the long scene of evil men giving birth to evil men, the film tries to portray the very nature in which patriarchy finds its way over centuries, passed on through generations. The physical injuries that the men trying to attack Harper have, a broken ankle and a hand-split in two halves, are both injuries that James’ body had after he had thrown himself to death. His body had landed among the metal spokes of a fence, which had split his hand, and the heavy fall had broken his ankle. It is undoubtedly the fear and false sense of guilt from her married relationship that return to haunt Harper on her vacation.
The next morning, Riley drives to the house and sees Harper’s car all mashed up from a collision that Geoffrey had caused last night. Riley, who is seen to be pregnant, walks up towards the house and sees her best friend sitting by herself, looking at a small leaf. Riley notices the blood trails near the house and also the injuries on Harper, who then looks up at her and smiles, and the film cuts to black. Harper definitely survives the night, and visible signs of the attacks actually having happened also abound in the place. Are we to consider then that all the supernatural elements really occurred? While that is one perspective, another more symbolic one can also be thought of. Harper would definitely tell Riley about all the harrowing experiences, and Riley would definitely believe her because, as a woman, she would be able to relate to the lechery, aggression, and toxicity that men with evil intentions thwart upon them. It is agreed that such a reading seems extremely gendered, but it perhaps takes us one step closer to what the film wants to symbolize. Ultimately, “Men” leaves audiences with a lot of thoughtful effects, irrespective of which side of the debate they want to be on. Jessie Buckley’s subtle but smooth performance as Harper Marlowe holds enormous value in the film’s having such an effect. Overall, despite the unconvincing execution at the end, “Men” is an entertaining watch with enough food for thought.
“Men” is a 2022 Drama Horror film directed by Alex Garland.