What makes the body horror in Men (2022) so fleshed-out and palpable? According to director Alex Garland, the Japanese anime Attack On Titan was one of the inspirations for the now-infamous birthing scene. In this piece, I break down the audiovisual language of Men (2022) and its ever-present sense of dread.
Men (2022) tells the story of Harper, a widow whose husband’s recent death still haunts her. Alex Garland, director of this peculiar independent horror film released by A24, unleashes many forces of evil that torment the protagonist. All of them root back to a creepy entity – The Green Man – that wreaks havoc in Harper’s life after the protagonist accidentally encounters it in the woods.
The true meaning of The Green Man in Men (2022) remains somewhat cryptic on purpose.
To define the pith of his existence verges between improbable and ridden of reason because Garland intentionally leaves many stones unturned in the film. Part of what makes this feminist horror film so unnerving is its unrelenting urge to place the audience in the shoes of the protagonist, who perceives the bizarre events without much acknowledgment or more profound understanding. Hence, the openness for interpretations makes Men (2022) a problematic watch, a fact seen rather straightforwardly in the film’s arguably low Rotten Tomatoes score.
The sequence best captures the ambiguity of the meaning conveyed between the lines when The Green Man arrives at Harper’s door, presumably to haunt her some more. When Alex Garland puts things in motion, the impious creature resembles a naked man who follows Harper in the woods. As Harper’s spiral of depression deepens, The Green Man, who represents the ballast of trauma the protagonist experienced, goes through a graphic transformation. The creature strangely bellows and proceeds to an elongated loop of graphic parturitions, bringing to world incarnations of evil that haunt Harper throughout the story.
In one of the interviews, Alex Garland revealed that the freakish series of grotesque mutations in Men (2022) was inspired by the Japanese anime, Attack On Titan.
[Attack On Titan inspired] verges on the edge of ridiculous, it sort of leans into the ridiculous and yet makes them terrifying and strange and intimating. I thought that is 20, 30, 40 times more imaginative than anything I’ve got going on in my head at the moment. What Attack On Titan did was it made me raise my game – made me go back and think harder and come up with a completely different idea for the mutation sequence that ended up being extremely appropriate to some of the thematic concerns within the film.
Part of what makes this birthing scene (although actor Rory Kinnear contradicts the idea that it is actual birthing) is its vividness and attention to detail.
What begins to look like a birthing scene – particularly the first part when The Green Man lays on the lawn and commences the childbirth procedure – becomes more wicked with every consecutive element of the transformation. Garland’s interpretation fills the moment with the symbolic meaning of a never-ending chain of abusers. Blood smeared on the floor, on the bodies, and sounds of cracking bones and flesh that rip in twisted ways, making space for new creatures to leave the carnal shell.
Quite visibly, the director of Men (2022) drew inspiration from classics of the body horror genre – from David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) to more obscure flicks such as Society (1989) by Brian Yuzna. The idea of treating the human body as a shell isn’t particularly new, although Garland executes it convincingly. John Carpenter’s cult classic They Live! (1988) comes to mind immediately, as well as Jonathan Glazer’s underrated cosmic horror, Under The Skin (2013). All of these films went to extreme lengths to showcase the plasticity of the human body in very dark ways.
Arriving at such a compelling blend of prosthetics and VFX required lots of courage – and patience – from Rory Kinnear.
[Shooting the metamorphosis sequence] was a fucking nightmare, particularly for Rory. He was very, very cold. He was doing something that I think required a lot of courage. From him, because he’s not wearing clothes. It’s freezing. There’s a whole bunch of crew around him all in puffer jackets, holding booms and laying down camera tracks and, and he’s doing something that is inherently kind of bound to trigger a whole bunch of just very human self-conscious impulses.
The same goes for Men (2022). Before Alex Garland serves the final visual feast, he experiments with grotesque carnality. Though not nearly as perplexing as the transfiguration of The Green Man, there’s particular nastiness to the cut of the hand and its subsequent use in the following scene starring Harper and Vicar.
Music in Men (2022) enhances the bone-deep terror of the visuals
The score composed by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury bolsters the unease of The Green Man’s transformation. When he first appears in the garden, poignant sounds of otherworldly chorals blend with a space-like ambiance.
As the sequence drags on, Harper seems to tame its bizarre nature, hence the evident switch in the score’s tone. Barrow and Salisbury shift the sound design to inject a sense of sorrow, and acceptance, which accompanies the most disgusting part of the mutation when James emerges from Geoffrey’s mouth.
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