The trailer for Garland's third directorial effort Men has done an excellent job of establishing a haunting atmosphere as it sets up the bizarre story of young widow Harper (Jessie Buckley) who has rented an isolated holiday home in the English countryside following the death of her husband (Paapa Essiedu). Things begin to get strange when Harper can’t stop seeing the face of the innkeeper (Rory Kinnear) in every resident in town.
While the innkeeper hints at an Adam & Eve theme when he warns Harper against biting into the “forbidden fruit” on the property, as it turns out Garland isn't going as much for the depth he displayed in his previous films Ex Machina (2015) and Annihilation (2018). This is not to say that Garland has completely severed his newest film from the stylings of his first two, even going as far to say in a new interview with Entertainment Weekly that while it's not like Ex Machina, it's like his sophomore effort in many ways:
“In my mind, a film like Men is connected to a film like Annihilation. They’re very much about how you’re feeling about something. Men is a gut-level film. I’m proud of Ex Machina, I really love it, but it’s an intellectual film. Men is not, I think. When I say it’s a slightly aggressive film, that’s what I mean: It’s coming at the viewer. It’s a gentle movie sometimes, there’s lots of silly humor in there, but it’s also a bit delinquent.”
One united theme for sure in his films is a tendency to focus on gender dynamics and Garland also keeps that present in this film:
“It comes up a lot, in different ways. With Men, I just sort of thought, ‘Screw it, I’m just gonna go straight into this.’ Maybe it’s just that with Men, instead of running underneath, it sits there on the surface.”
He goes on to describe it as “a horror movie about a sense of horror" and more about the way it's perceived by audiences:
“A huge amount of it is about how the viewer responds to it. The film is about giving 50 percent of something, which could be touchstones, and the viewer is providing another 50 percent. If that is your response to it, I’m fascinated by that. People feel like, ‘Oh, I know what’s gonna happen now. But if you can just slightly mess with that, and keep them on their toes — that’s the plan, anyway.”
But what could have brought on this change from more subtle films to an independent film he openly describes as "delinquent"? As it turns out...his own mortality:
“I’m in my early 50s and my main problem with film tends to be feeling bored. I sort of feel like I know where this is gonna go, I feel like I’ve seen this or that sequence of events play out an unbelievable number of times. I’m hoping to disrupt that a bit.”
With any luck, Garland will continue his streak of grand cinema but be able to shift to something more accessible. We'll find out when the film lands in theaters on May 20th. Stay tuned!