Myriad monstrous men have haunted by moviegoers since the earliest days of cinema, from The Invisible Man (1933) and The Wolf Man (1941) up until more recent scare fare like, well, The Invisible Man (2020) and Candyman (1992 and 2021).
And there’s no mistaking who the monsters are — at least from the main character’s perspective — in the author-turned-screenwriter-turned-director’s latest mind-bender.
“It's such an interesting word because it's so short and it's just these three letters, and it's freighted with so much complicated meaning, feeling, argument, disappointment,” the London-born Garland, 51, said of his title during a virtual interview with Yahoo Entertainment.
“It could be pride, it could be horror. There’s so just so much packed into those three letters. It’s something which needs to be dismantled in a complicated way, but also needs to be supported in a complicated way. And it’s all just contained in those three letters.”
Men follows Harper (Jessie Buckley), a London woman who retreats to a rural manor after the traumatic death of her abusive husband (Paapa Essiedu). Isolated in the seemingly idyllic English countryside, Harper begins having a series of deeply unsettling encounters with males in the area, including a naked vagrant, priest, local teenager and even the home’s ambiguously creepy owner. In a few strokes of acting brilliance, each character is played the same performer, Rory Kinnear (best known for playing Bill Tanner in Daniel Craig’s James Bond films).
There are no easy answers provided in the film’s psyche-teasing provocations, and the film is a much more challenging watch than his acclaimed first two directorial efforts, Ex Machina (2015) and Annihilation (2018). Garland, who rose to prominence for his bestselling book The Beach (later adapted into the 2000 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio) and then as screenwriter for 28 Days Later (2002) and Dredd (2012), doesn’t care to expound on what he's saying about masculinity or its toxicity.
“I was trying to make a film in which, in its starting point, was about having a sense of horror about something,” he says. “So it’s using a horror movie genre to make a film about having a sense of horror. And that felt appropriate because one of the things about horror movies is you spend a portion of it trying to figure out what is and isn’t real. How well-placed fears are. Is that a supernatural event or not? Is there a monster in the cupboard or not? There was something about that that felt neat and appropriate.”
Garland points out his need to clarify Men as a horror movie while recalling the time someone asked him if 28 Days Later — the breathless, instantly classic scare-fest that resurrected the zombie genre in 2002 — was a zombie movie.
“I was thinking, ‘Of course this is a zombie movie. They’re trying to f**k you up!’ In the same way 28 Days Later is a zombie movie, this is a horror movie.”
Men opens in theaters Friday.
Watch the trailer: