There’s been a lot of recent pushback against the suggestion that A24 has an overriding “house style.” Younger film nerds who were raised on a cinematic diet of Disney-owned studios like Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm can go a little overboard transferring their fandom of boardroom-directed brands to auteur-driven distributors like A24 & Neon, but I don’t know that they’re entirely wrong to do so. Some of A24’s unified “house style” is an illusion generated by their brand-conscious marketing & distribution strategies (which are truly admirable in the way they lure broad audiences into seeing niche-interest art films). I can’t deny that their in-house productions often share common tones & tropes, though, even if that’s only a result of selecting which projects to fund, as opposed to dictating what directors deliver in the final edit. For instance, I’m confident I would’ve guessed what studio produced the “A24 Horror” film Men before I would’ve guessed which frequent A24 employee directed it. Alex Garland is usually reliable for a chilly sci-fi creepout (Ex Machina, Annihilation, Devs), not an atmospheric folk horror with a blatant 1:1 metaphor behind all its grotesque imagery. That’s glaringly recognizable A24 territory, even if general praise for the studio as a corporate auteur can be a little silly.
With Men, Alex Garland updates The Wicker Man for the post-Get Out era and ends up making his version of mother! in the process. Jessie Buckley stars as the Big City outsider intruding on the strange, insular customs of rural Brits, tethered to her London homebase only through daily Facetime calls with her sister (who provides Lil Rel-style running commentary and eventual rescue). The small-village cult she stumbles into worships at the altar of Misogyny. The villagers are so unified in their hatred of women that they all share the same actor’s CG-applied face (Rory Kinnear’s), making the title Men shorthand for Yes, All Men. This is a purely allegorical exercise. Buckley’s terrorized heroine might be from a real-world London, but the countryside village where she vacations is outright Biblical in its heavy-handed visual metaphors, complete with a first-act reference to forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. All of the men (or, more accurately, all of the man) in her vicinity blame her for their own moral & behavioral shortcomings, violently punishing her for their own sins. Each variation of Kinnear represents a different misogynist archetype, from schoolboy mouthbreather to clueless microagressor to repressed incel to base, hateful animal. In their sickly presence Buckley realizes that all men are the same, all men are creeps, and their pathetic, self-hating abuses against her are not actually her fault, no matter how deftly they’re excused (which is where the allegory echoes beyond the borders of the village to resonate in her real-world social life).
It’s difficult to parse out which aspects of Men are personal to Garland as an auteur vs. which aspects result from the expectations & standards of A24 Horror as a brand. It’s a useless distinction in a lot of ways, since I appreciate both the director and the studio for consistently bringing provocative genre films to the American multiplex. The reason I mention it at all is because Men is near impossible to discuss as a standalone work. Most of the conversation around it focuses more on broad genre trends than it does on this movie in particular, guided by individual audiences’ personal appetite for yet another atmospheric, allegorical horror with blatant social messaging. Regardless of the way Men participates in the macro trends of A24 productions or modern horror at large, I do think it’s clear that Garland is exploring something personal here. It’s an anguished, pathetic expression of guilt about the misogyny lurking in all men—even the “nice” ones—that gets stunningly cathartic in its go-for-broke climax, releasing all of the film’s slow-winding tension in a slimy, disjointed fit of body horror. If you want, you can continue to track the central metaphor in that grotesque display through the ways one form of misogyny (to borrow a term from Genesis) begets another. It’s also just a broadcast of ugly, difficult-to-stomach impulses direct from Garland’s psyche, which is the exact kind of personal art I’m always looking for at the movies. I find it strange that Garland stepped outside his home realm of sci-fi to exorcise these particular demons, but I hope enough people appreciate the effort that he feels it was worth the risk. It’s a great, squirmy little horror film no matter where it fits in the larger cultural landscape or the director’s own catalog.