Traumatised by the sudden death of her husband James who she was on the point of divorcing, Harper Marlowe has decided to escape to the safety of the countryside, renting a house in the village of Cotson for two weeks, four hours from the pressure of London and the immediate reminders, though the memories of the incident cannot be escaped, his face looking back at her as he fell from the balcony past the window where she watched in horror.
Greeted by Geoffrey, the owner of the house such a traditional English country gentleman he is almost a parody, Harper explores the land surrounding the five-hundred year old house, scrambling along muddy paths through dense woodland, feeling the rain and enjoying the sound of the thunder, singing into an abandoned railway tunnel and harmonising with the echo when it returns, a return to nature in which she hopes to find peace but which prompts a figure to emerge from the undergrowth, following her back to the village across the fields.
An oblique mystery thriller written and directed by Ex Machina’s Alex Garland, Beast’s Jessie Buckley is the widowed Harper and The First Men in the Moon’s Rory Kinnear plays not only the overly friendly Geoffrey but all the other Men in Cotson, the policeman, the barman, the vicar, the homeless man she encounters naked in the wild, his face seemingly everywhere, taunting her, mocking her, stalking her, the haven of the countryside tainted by the unnatural.
Filled with recurring images of dandelion seeds blown by the wind, a chaotic and unpredictable action which cannot be rewound or undone, the self-sufficient Harper is determined to move forward, choosing to spend time alone to heal, private moments she feels no need to share with anybody else and unrepentant in her decision not justify herself to anyone yet impacted by what has happened; what James did was a desperate moment poorly considered, a reaction rather than a rationally decided course of action, but while it is over for him Harper lives with the consequences.
The understandable fear she felt in the forest abating when she returns to the comfort of civilisation only to find the thing in the woods has pursued her, the thick stone walls and heavy oak doors offering insufficient protection, Harper’s initial happiness at her solitude turns to apprehension then genuine terror, finding herself alone in a strange place where she is not listened to, the titular Men dismissing her fears or treating her as a child.
The image of the Green Man threaded through the film as roots through the soil of the fields and forests, carved into the font of the church and manifested in the man who stalks her, his presence represents the cycles of nature from birth to death, Men is at times shocking, disturbing and graphic, impenetrable yet mesmerising as Buckley and Kinnear fumble towards enlightenment through the horror of that rebirth even as the soundtrack is filled by the ethereal howling of the souls lost in the void.