Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

5/5 (1)

Novelist and filmmaker Alex Garland always pushes the envelope. In “Men,” he addresses male toxicity, and it is not for the squeamish. The film is rapid, engaging and full of adrenaline along with testosterone. While it might be too much, it is nonetheless thoughtful and daring with its commentary.

Harper (Jesse Buckley) is a newly divorced woman who rents a big house in the English countryside. She is skittish. During a cursory stroll, Harper takes a bite from an apple. Straightaway, a self-effacing custodian of the house (Rory Kinnear) is present. He is reserved yet comical and nervous himself, a character straight out of Roald Dahl.

Harper is delighted.

Then while talking with her friend, she encounters phantom interference on her phone in the form of a man screaming—a bit like Francis Bacon’s screaming popes.

Borrowing from many sources, not least of them being the Bible, fairy tales or the folk horror of “The Wicker Man”, Garland creates an engrossing horror-like tale of male monstrosity where not even the form of a cathedral offers compassion.

“Men” is most effective when it details the origins of Harper’s fright. Things soured between Harper and her husband James (Paapa Essiedu) who turns physically violent and threatens suicide.

Harper is blighted by guilt that comes at her with the persistence of a virus. Suddenly nude men appear before her with blank disquieting gazes at a window or in the cathedral. Understandably, Harper is deeply unnerved and begins to carry a knife. No one is able to help her.

“Men” is very adept at highlighting male self-absorption and stuffy arrogance.

Actor Rory Kinnear very nearly deserves an Academy Award, not only for his performance as a steward of the country house, but for every male monster on the English grounds, including the weird adult child as well as the naked plant-man who recalls Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.

While the David Cronenberg finale is a bit overdone, it does stress the masochistic burden that abused women are put under. To be forced to witness the birth of your guilt ten times over—symbolized by the birth of multiple pairs of men and women in the film- is a Hell beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.

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