Alex Garland Explains Why His New Horror Movie Men Is More ‘Gut-level’ Than Ex Machina
According to Alex Garland himself, there are two types of Alex Garland movies. One involves slower, more cerebral stories mostly concerned with big science questions: think Garland’s 2014 film debut Ex-Machina or his recent FX mini-series Developers. At the other end of his artistic spectrum, there are the films that their own creator qualifies as “aggressive”, more interested in images and sensations than in ideas.
And make no mistake: Garland’s latest film, Menan increasingly angry and surreal popular piece of horror, definitely belongs in the second category.
“In my mind, a film like Men is related to a movie like Annihilation“, Garland tells EW exclusively. “They talk a lot about how you are feeling about something. Men is a gut-level film. I am proud of Ex-MachinaI like it a lot, but it’s an intellectual film. Men no, I think so.”
Kevin Baker/A24 Jessie Buckley surrounded by outside greens in “Men.”
MenThe official cast list has only four names. Star Jessie Buckley appears in nearly every picture as Harper, a young woman who has rented a secluded holiday home in the English countryside as a respite from recent relationship turmoil. As she settles into her new surroundings, viewers are treated to a steady supply of flashbacks obliquely detailing what transpired between Harper and her husband (Paapa Essiedu) in London.
It is easy to designate these different points in space and time thanks to Menpowerful use of color. Flashbacks to city life paint the screen a fiery orange, while today’s rural scenes are steeped in verdant green. The interior of his rented house, meanwhile, is an eerie red.
“It’s like giving the viewer a boost, one way or another,” Garland says. “When I say it’s a slightly aggressive film, that’s what I mean: it comes to the viewer. It’s a sweet film sometimes, there’s a lot of silly humor in it, but it’s is also a bit delinquent.”
A24 Rory Kinnear in ‘Men’ – Sound Familiar?
Men is outspoken with its thematic concerns, starting with this title. Garland has long struggled with ideas about masculinity, dating back to her days as a screenwriter only; the final act of 28 days later shows survivors of the zombie apocalypse initially finding refuge in a military encampment, to face the violent threats posed by an all-male society. Ex-Machina is about two male scientists analyzing exclusively female robots – and while they say they’re only debating the merits of artificial intelligence, they also clash with female sexuality. Annihilation is about a team of female scientists exploring an alien landscape that the men have failed to quantify.
“It comes up a lot, in different ways,” admits Garland. “With Men, I just sort of thought, ‘Damn, I’m just gonna go straight into that.’ Maybe it’s just that with Meninstead of running underneath, it stays there on the surface.”
Kevin Baker/A24 Jessie Buckley in the middle of the interior reds in “Men”.
As Harper settles in – or tries to – various strangers, all male, impose their presence on her in a way that makes viewers aware of the casual aggression, as well as something far more advanced. Symbols abound: what does the Green Man who recurs throughout the film mean? Why do so many non-Harper characters share the same face (that of actor Rory Kinnear)?
Is it right to call Men a feminist horror film? Garland is staying mum for now. He describes it as “a horror film about a feeling of horror” or, even more simply, “a ghost story”. If audience members feel it evokes #MeToo resonances about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment, that’s up to them, he argues.
“A lot of it depends on how the viewer reacts to it,” says Garland. “The film is about giving 50% of something, which could be touchstones, and the viewer providing another 50%. If that’s your answer, I’m fascinated by that.”
Kevin Baker/A24 Rory Kinnear in “Men”.
“I’m in my 50s,” he continues, “and my main problem with movies tends to be boredom. I feel like I’ve seen this or that sequence of events unfold an incredible number of times. I hope to disrupt that a bit.
Horror movies in particular have taken advantage of Garland’s playfulness. “People are like, ‘Oh, I know what’s going to happen now,'” the director said. “But if you can just play around with that a bit and keep them on their toes – that’s the plan, anyway.”
Men hits theaters on May 20, distributed by A24.
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