Why is the grass around the English country house where Harper (Jessie Buckley) comes to stay after the death of her ex-husband (Paapa Essiedu) a hallucinogenic shade of chartreuse? No reason, except for aesthetic shock value. Overly-produced, emotionally empty images dominate a film that makes broad gestures towards the subject of toxic masculinity, while failing to land a single point in meaningful detail.
Buckley is an all-in performer and her grounding presence enables Men’s promise to linger for the first act. She humours her temporary landlord, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), an affable country posho whose odd comments are framed as somehow loaded.
In the time-honoured fashion of folk horrors like The Wicker Man, exploring the local countryside reveals Strange Goings On – not least a satyr-like nude in the corner of a field. Harper notices him, but does not notice that every single man and boy in the village has the same face.
That face belongs to Rory Kinnear, pulling off enough roles to rival Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets, Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, or, if you want to get really granular, Dick Van Dyke in the ‘Inheritance Death’ episode of Diagnosis Murder. This casting choice, though entertaining, scans like a cheap gimmick.
As a bloody spectacle, it’s absurdly kitsch rather than exhilarating
Garland builds expectations by creating a suggestive atmosphere that, as the horror and home-invasion elements kick in, leads to an anticlimax. Harper’s traumatic backstory and the eerie folklore seeds do not cohere in a bloody spectacle that is absurdly kitsch rather than exhilarating.
Garland has always flirted with obscurity, but in his best work this has been anchored by an enveloping depth of feeling. Now he has tumbled down a rabbit-hole here where no mortal man – not even a village of them, all played by Rory Kinnear – can follow.
In UK cinemas Jun 1.