If you are also a cinephile on duty, you should already know that the production company A24 is responsible for some of the most interesting films of recent years, especially in the horror genre. Hereditary, Midsommar, X – The Mark of Death and The Witch, for example, are works that are part of the great catalog of the brand, which continues to extend its reach within horror cinema with new titles every year.
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In between latest horror news from A24, is the film Men: Faces of Fearreleased in September 2022. Conceived in the United Kingdom, the feature was written and directed by Alex Garland, who also brought to life the engaging Ex_Machina: Artificial Instinct (2014), Annihilation (2018) and Extermination (2002).
Men, however, differs greatly from Garland’s previous works by bringing a more intimate, dramatic narrative, centered on very few characters. However, make no mistake: Faces do Medo delivers a lot, even with few elements, and does not fail to scare at the same time that it weaves heavy and pertinent criticism. But I’ll talk more about that in a moment.
Before that, how about we understand a little more about the plot of Men and why this story gave something to talk about in 2022, huh? Here we go!
What is Men: Faces of Fear?
The plot of Men: Faces of Fear is pretty simple, actually. In it, we follow the character Harper (Jessie Buckley), a middle-aged woman who rents a country house on the outskirts of London in order to relax. Until then, everything is fine. However, the reason for her to “flee” London in search of peace is staggering: she witnessed the suicide of her own husband, James (Paapa Essiedu).
After a tremendous discussion, Harper says that she will divorce James and that she can’t stand the behavior of her lover anymore, who has nothing to do with love. That’s because, throughout the narrative, we discover that James was an extremely obsessive, possessive, jealous and violent guy. Reasons that lead Harper to want the separation.
James does not accept the girl’s decision and, as an “answer”, throws himself off the building where the couple lived, while Harper is inside the house, seeing everything from her apartment window. Traumatized by the episode, she decides to take a break from everything and go to that isolated house in the countryside to forget what happened, if that’s possible.
In the quiet residence, surrounded by trees, plants and silence, Harper meets the landlord, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), a slightly awkward and helpful man who, at first, seems harmless. He shows Harper around the house, gives tips on what to do in the area, and makes a point of showing that he’s always available if she needs it.
The protagonist’s only contact with “reality” is digital, in daily conversations on her cell phone or laptop that she has with her best friend, Riley (Gayle Rankin), with whom she shares her experience and her thoughts.
Harper’s stay goes well, until the moment she comes face to face with the figure of a frightening naked man in a tunnel during a walk in the forest that surrounds the residence. From then on, the boy starts to follow her and a series of oddities begins to happen, putting Harper in great danger.
Men manages to scare while dealing with a relevant social issue.Source: A24
WARNING: FROM NOW ON, THE TEXT WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR MEN: FACES OF FEAR. DO NOT CONTINUE READING IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE!
Narrative and critical analysis of Men: Faces of Fear
Men is a gut punch from start to finish. Garland was very assertive and effective in creating a work that manages not only to cause fear and tension, but that also has several narrative layers, since the plot is a great allegory, with several criticisms and metaphors, about a main theme: the behaviors toxic effects of men in relation to women.
In this sense, the title of the film already delivers enough, since the work essentially portrays men and their different problematic faces in front of female figures. During the story, therefore, Garland is concerned with exposing how certain male patterns and actions can affect and harm women, who should not have to “put up with” them, but who, unfortunately, are still her main targets.
To synthesize this central idea, Men uses the protagonist Harper as a kind of “guinea pig” and the main target of various evils and terrible attitudes. First, she is emotionally and physically abused by her husband, James, who, as already mentioned here, is jealous, violent and emotionally immature. When she finally decides to leave the man, he emotionally blackmails her and says he will commit suicide if she leaves. Which he does, throwing all the “responsibility” of the failed marriage into Harper’s hands (which, of course, is not her fault).
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After that first horrible experience, Harper tries to pull herself together, but her trauma only increases as she comes into contact with other men throughout the narrative, all played by Kinnear, who does a great job of living different characters, all with quirks and distinct but equally frightening characteristics.
Harper’s interactions with other men during Men show problematic behavior.Source: A24
By portraying all the male characters in the film through the same actor, Garland conveys the message that toxic behaviors can be present in all men. That is, they would be equal from the moment they choose, consciously or not, to reproduce the same problematic attitudes.
And this idea is further reinforced in the bizarre final sequence of the feature, in which men are born from each other (yes, literally), implying that this male toxicity towards women would be cyclical and passed from generation to generation. And as long as this pattern is not broken, nothing will change.
And the film gets it right by making it very clear what some of these behavioral patterns would be during Harper’s interactions with male figures. The priest, for example, tells her that James’ suicide is indeed her fault, as she wouldn’t have given him another chance. Nonsense, of course.
The same priest, incidentally, has some sexual desires towards the protagonist and, in a specific scene, reveals to the girl that she would have been the one who put those “thoughts” in his head. That is, would she have to stop being a woman or leave the house in order to prevent men from wanting her?
There are several other similar cases demonstrated in the narrative, but talking about each one of them would make the text too long. But I think you get the idea.
In the end, Harper seems to manage, even if temporarily, to win her plot in relation to James (who is the last man to be born in the grotesque final scene, indicating that he was one of the roots of the girl’s trauma). However, the narrative plays with us by putting Harper’s best friend on the scene, who appears to help her. And guess what? She is pregnant.
In this way, the film puts a doubt in our minds: will a boy be born? If so, what will he be like when he grows up? Will he get into this vicious cycle of toxicity, or will he break it? Anyway, Men is a big slap in the face and helps to elucidate even more an important theme, which can never be left aside.