Not All Men: The Movie – Jessie Buckley is the only good thing in Alex Garland’s new horror


Men Two stars In cinemas; Cert 16

hat, exactly, are we supposed to take from Men? It’s the only question worth asking after a viewing of this deeply disappointing horror from writer and director Alex Garland.

Well, maybe not the only question. I’d also like to know why it’s so bloody terrible.

Garland is no hack. An esteemed novelist and filmmaker, the 52-year-old Londoner has been churning out menacing, psychological thrills since the late 1990s. He found fame first as author of everyone’s favourite gen-x holiday read, The Beach, and later as Danny Boyle’s go-to movie scribe for all things sinister.

With 28 Days Later (a classic), they made zombies cool again. In Sunshine (flawed yet fascinating), they sent Cillian Murphy into outer space. But it wasn’t until Garland’s 2014 venture, Ex Machina – a magnificently assembled sci-fi parable, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander – that he showed us what he was really made of.

A startling directorial debut, bristling with confidence and conviction, Ex Machina was nominated for two Oscars, winning one for visual effects. It also cemented Garland’s status as a filmmaker of substantial worth. He followed it up in 2018 with the Natalie Portman-led Annihilation, another devilish sci-fi, this time with bigger ideas and a bigger canvas.

Now, for his latest trick, Garland has gone full-on folk horror with a barmy and bewildering tale about a traumatised widow who has the worst Airbnb experience ever. And I’m sorry to report that it might very well be Garland’s first proper dud.

The always excellent Jessie Buckley takes the lead as Harper, a young woman looking to escape a recent tragedy by holidaying alone in an extravagant manor in the British countryside.

Obviously, the vacation does not go according to plan – this is, after all, a horror film. But Harper assures herself and, indeed, her FaceTime pal, Riley (Gayle Rankin), that there’s nothing to worry about. We beg to differ.

For a start, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), the bumbling landlord from whom she’s renting the gaff, is a bit of an oddball. Plus, there’s a naked man in the garden (also Rory Kinnear) who appears to be stalking our anxious protagonist.

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Thankfully, after contacting the authorities, the naked man is arrested, and all is right in the world again. But is it, really? The days pass slowly, and Harper is plagued with soapy flashbacks of a joyless marriage that ended in spectacularly grim fashion. She visits the local vicar (Kinnear again) who suggests that everything that went wrong was entirely her fault (it wasn’t).

She encounters a local teenage boy (Kinnear) who calls her a bitch because she won’t play with him. Harper then swings by the pub – full of Kinnears – where she discovers the police have let the naked man go because – wait for it – they say he’s done nothing wrong. Are you starting to notice a pattern here?

These are the ingredients of a sneaky, socially conscious chiller. It’s a shame then, to find Garland’s film in such a sorry and pathetic state of disorganised chaos.

Indeed, Men is loaded to the gills with ideas, metaphors and motifs, but its heavy-handed narrative – that of an abused woman trapped in a sideways, patriarchal purgatory – is all over the shop.

A mesmerising talent, Buckley could recite the contents of a cereal box, and we’d happily pay to see it. She works hard here, harder than Garland’s discombobulated feature deserves, and there are times when it looks like she might single-handedly save this vacuous, vexing exercise from itself.

Likewise, Kinnear goes above and beyond – but I’m not sure if the idea of one actor playing an entire, male-dominated village was the way to go.

You can sort of see what they’re playing at. Are blokes all the same? Maybe. Despite a promising start, however, this slippery, self-aware yet surprisingly sloppy satire (think Not All Men: The Movie, and you’re halfway there) is all set-up and no pay-off.

It completely loses the run of itself with wild and wacky tonal shifts, gaping plot holes (where are all the women, and can Harper not see that everyone is Rory Kinnear?), dodgy effects (teenage Kinnear is unintentionally comical) and gratuitous body horror.

The final third is a gory and gruesome mess – a fitting end, I suppose, to a film that is as subtle as a smack to the head. Every bit as unpleasant, too.

Also showing


Tomas Matos, Matt Rogers, and Bowen Yang in ‘Fire Island’

Fire Island
Two stars
Disney+; Cert 16+

If Fire Island feels like a wasted opportunity, then that’s because it is.

Originally conceived as a TV show, it’s easy to see writer and actor Joel Kim Booster’s clever concept – a queer Pride and Prejudice, set in a gay vacation spot off of Long Island – thriving in a mini-series format. As it stands, this patchy, dispassionate display misses the target.

The sun is high, and so too are Noah (Kim Booster) and his cash-strapped mates. Every summer, the boys embark on a week-long getaway at their wealthy mate’s gaff in gay paradise. But this could be their last. Rich mate Erin (Margaret Cho) is broke, and her house is up for sale.

The fab five will need to go out with a bang, and Noah is determined to put aside his own interests and ideals to find a man for his unlucky bestie, Howie (Bowen Yang). Opportunity presents itself in the form of dashing doctor Charlie (James Scully) and – catching Noah’s cynical eye – his handsome lawyer pal Will (Conrad Ricamora).

A tasty set-up, and Fire Island should have been a rom-com smash. Instead, it’s stuck in first gear, its capable cast hampered by a dull, over-written screenplay that’s never as fun or as funny as it needs to be. Chris Wasser


Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps in ‘Bergman Island’

Bergman Island
Four stars 
IFI & selected cinemas; Cert 15A

Dextrous French writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve is offering up a remedy for the summertime blues – Nordic postmodern cine-literate romantic drama. Bear with us.

Film-making couple Tony and Chris (Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps) embark to the Swedish island of Fårö for a writing retreat where they hope to summon the spirit of the island’s most famous former resident, cinema giant Ingmar Bergman.

While Tony calls producers and meets gushing fans, Chris is left to explore the island and work on a screenplay she’s having trouble with. Seeking Tony’s advice, she outlines the plot to him – at which point we relocate to a film within a film, one depicting a young filmmaker (Mia Wasikowska) crossing paths with an old flame at a wedding on the same island.

Despite its pretentious appearance and sedate pace, there is an insistent pull to Bergman Island that holds you and delivers its own off-kilter rewards. Krieps and Wasikowska are quietly magnetic reflections of the same character.

Even if the ending leaves you slightly bemused, you somehow feel that Bergman himself would be proud. Hilary White

Four stars
IFI & selected cinemas; Cert 15A

Art and life intermingle with an uneasy sense of portent in this multi-award-winning debut feature from Elie Grappe.

Olga is the tale of an ambitious 15-year-old gymnast forced to flee Kyiv and watch the harrowing Maidan Revolution in 2014 play out from the safety of Switzerland. Her dreams of representing Ukraine in the European Championships now shattered, Olga is able to qualify for the Swiss national team on account of her father’s nationality.

She is not roundly welcomed by her new teammates, however. The settling-in period in this strange new environment is made all the more difficult by news from back home of a vigorous people’s uprising and its subsequent brutal suppression by government forces.

A little over a week after Olga’s Irish premiere at DIFF in late February of this year, star and real-life former-gymnast Anastasiia Budiashkina found her fate echoing that of her character as she fled across the border into Poland.

It adds an extra layer of pathos to this quietly powerful character study that has recently become a cinematic torch for the plight of the Ukrainian people. Hilary White


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