In 2015, I listed Alex Garland’s debut directorial effort as my favorite film of the year. It was a provocative science fiction film that had big ideas and themes to build around. It reminded me of a lot of 70s science fiction films and the ending was a bit nihilistic. like the three Charlton Heston sci fi films of that era. I waited on his second film “Annihilation”, because something in the marketing warned me that it was going to be a tough go. I watched it finally, just a few days ago and my instinct was correct. “Annihilation” is beautifully mounted and skillfully assembled, but the story feels incomplete and there is not an discernable theme to pull it together. I don’t need the theme to hit me over the head but when it is so obtuse that I don’t care to think about it, I believe the film maker has come up short. That brings us to his newest film, “Men”. Will this be a thought provoking horror film, one that potentially says something about the title subject, or will this be an exercise in abstraction, satisfying only those who have enough imagination to impose an idea on the film? 

Let me make a couple of comparisons for you that might make my point clearer. Robert Eggers has directed two films that I have come to loathe, because of his instance that internal logic and a plot are less important than mood and exaggerated characterizations. David Lowery, made a movie that I loved, a reimagining of “Pete’s Dragon“, that mixed sadness with hope and a clear story. He then followed it with the acutely dense, slow and cryptic “A Ghost Story” and last years “The Green Knight“, both of which have much going for them, except a point. I’m afraid that Alex Garland has joined their cult of artistic ambiguity and instead of prompting thought, his films now stimulate irritation. “Men” is a horror film that works on atmosphere in the first two acts, and then revulsion in the third, all in aid of shrugged shoulders as some might ponder what it was all about, and others ponder why they bothered.

The set up of a woman, damaged by a marriage that ended in a tragically ugly way, seeking solace in the countryside, seems perfectly fine as a starting point. There is a juxtaposition of beauty in the natural countryside with the ugliness of people she encounters in the small village and the manor house that she has leased for a few weeks.  It won’t take you too long to figure out why all of the men she encounters become increasingly creepy. The subtle similarities are there for us to catch on to, and that is great, but it is not clear why her fears are manifesting in this manner. There is a very strong suggestion that all of this is a projection of her feelings about her husband and their relationship, but there are also signs and evidence that this is far from just a mental breakdown, and in fact there is a malevolence that is imposing itself on her in real life. I don’t see a third way to explain what is going on and the bifurcation of sources here is never really resolved which is very deflating to the film. When a final character appears at the very end, there is another element that evokes possible meaning, but the strain that you would have to go through to get there is not worth the effort.

If there is anything to recommend the film more positively, it is the three pronged fork of Rory Kinnear, Jessie Buckley, and the special effects team that does dramatic work in the last act. Kinnear is a prolific television actor in British episodic programs. He has been best known to me as Bill Tanner, “M”‘s Chief of Staff in the James Bond films of Daniel Craig. Here he manifests some startlingly different character traits, across a plethora of opportunities. It is best to let you discover those on your own if you are inclined to see the film. Jessie Buckley has captivated me since “Wild Rose” and her character here is vastly different than that role. Harper, the woman Buckley portrays, is emotionally fragile but also self sufficient and a bit stubborn. She can scream with the best of them, but she can also fight back, and in an interesting way at the end, her battle is the most passive strategy you can imagine. I’m not sure it makes sense, but she sells it. Finally, if you are a fan of body horror and creatively grotesque visual effects, the climax of the film will impress you as far as the gore facto is concerned. There is a Russian style nest of dolls sequence which will nauseate you enough to at least get an ick factor out of this horror film.

The aggressively woke title of the film, seems to mean nothing in the long run. If you were expecting a political or social commentary from the film, prepare to be disappointed. At best, the theme of one man’s obsessive possessiveness , is cloudy. It might be there, or it might just be a figment of your imagination. Whoa, that’s the same problem as the whole film, imagine that. 

The Green Knight

What appears to be a fantasy adventure from the trailer above, is actually a slow moving meditative visual poem. That seems like it would be appropriate given the source material, but a theatrical film requires a few things to meet an audiences expectations. “The Green Knight” lacks those essential ingredients. That does not mean it is a worthless enterprise, but it will test the patience of most viewers and it will still frustrate those who are committed to experiencing it as it is meant by the director. 

David Lowery has made three films I have reviewed on this site before: “Pete’s Dragon“, “A Ghost Story” and “The Old Man and the Gun“. I found value in all three but not much entertainment in one of them, “A Ghost Story”, unfortunately, that is the film in Lowery’s catalogue that feels the most like “The Green Knight”. Pacing is a legitimate tool for story telling. A slow burn toward an action scene or a pause for the irony of a joke to set in can make a film better. However, when the pace feels like a slog, and the audience begins to notice that the story is not moving so much as lumbering, pacing may defeat the film’s ability to hold an audience’s attention. I think that is the case here. 
There are several scenes that are beautifully shot, but you start to notice the shot more than the story. One sequence in particular stood out for me. As Sir Gawain, Dev Patel’s central character, encounters a group of giants, the film seems to stop merely to acknowledge the fact that we are seeing giants. They do not advance the plot and in fact, there is a moment of confusion as the only other character who accompanies Gawain on his whole journey, dissuades him from following up with the giants. We never discover why, and it is just another incident but not an event that happens on the journey to confront the Green Knight.

Patel is an interesting choice for the part of Gawain. I’m sure that somewhere there is a diversity driven audience that is pleased to see a person of color in this kind of film. There may have been a time when that seemed to be a breakthrough, but for me that time is long passed. The color of a character may be important in some stories, but in this and so many other films, why should it matter? To me, the question is whetehre the actor has the characteristics to sell us on the part they are playing. Patel is brash when he needs to be and subdued when it feels appropriate. The quality of humbleness, which is a characteristic of a knight is tested by the script rather than Patel’s performance. It is easy to project onto his face the fear, confusion and dread that the audience must go through. The problems with the film have to do with things other than the casting and work of the actors.

Although the story has the components of a narrative heroes journey, it never feels that way. Each incident or event feels independent of the next. There are some call backs toward the end of the piece which try to tie some components of the story together, but it does not really succeed at doing so. There are several instances where the audience point of view is that of the protagonist, and then the perspective shifts and we get an outside view of events. This could also potentially be a time loop film since we are told the same story in two completely different ways on more than one occasion. Does Gawain need to die to meet his expectations? Is he a good man or a fallen one? How best confront your own doubts? The fact that the film asks the questions and then provides multiple answers instead of suggesting a single vision is infuriating at the end. 

We had a good discussion of this film on the Lambcast and you can listen to it here:

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A Ghost Story (2017)


If you watch the trailer for this film, you will not be expecting a horror movie. The tone of the preview clearly outlines that this is a meditative film about the afterlife and not a Halloween fright flick. The impression the ad leaves you with is that this movie is going to contemplate the emotions of grief and loneliness. It turns out however, to have bigger things on it’s mind, although what those things are is not entirely clear to me. The tagline on the poster says “It’s all about time.” So if you are in the mood for a slow moving, abstract story about the metaphysics of death, her it is.

The above introduction might give the impression that I did not like the film. On the contrary, there are a number of things that the film does that are intriguing and thoughtful. Writer/Director David Lowery clearly has things on his mind, but he is taking his time getting them into ours. I thought the film he made last year, the re-imagining of “Pete’s Dragon“, was wonderful. There are quiet moments of beauty that get lingered over and many shots are clearly carefully composed. The reservation I have is that the point of it all is more opaque as the film goes along. The mediation of grief is one of the shortest elements of the film. The widow is shown in despair and coping in very mundane ways. Her story though disappears halfway through the film. At one point the “Ghost” in the story essentially commits suicide. Yeah, I know that does not make much sense but none of this is supposed to be taken literally, my hesitation is that It’s not very focused on how we should try to digest it. The turn involves a switch in time, from the future to a past maybe a century earlier. When the past starts to replay itself, I guess we are to see existence as an infinity mirror. The closest we get to any explanation of why is the pontification of a beer guzzling philosopher at a house party that the “Ghost” lingers through.


The deliberate pacing worked for some scenes but in others I found it very off putting. Two examples can help illustrate. First, when the couple featured in the story first hear a sound in the middle of the night, after they check for it’s source and return to bed, they cling to each other very intimately. It’s not a sex scene or any kind of exposition, it is just a few moments of silent hugging, kissing and nuzzling, much as any couple might engage in when both are awake and want the other to know that they care.  It goes on for a few minutes but it leads to nowhere. As a character moment I think it tells us something about their relationship that we might not have know. The second extended scene involves the widow, sitting on the kitchen floor, alone, eating a pie. We see every bite and the mucus dripping from her nose as she is grieving, but it is all too much and too long. Lowey is making a film where the camera rarely moves. The shots are static because that’s the way he wants us to perceive time. Unfortunately it also tries our patience when it happens repeatedly.

This year’s Academy Award winning actor, is the star of the film, but he appears in maybe five to ten minutes of the film. Casey Affleck is fine in those scenes, but there is nothing to suggest that the spirit, embodied by a hospital bed sheet, is in any way the actor we know. The performance that dominates the movie is a pantomime by an image of a child’s version of a ghost. This is the accomplishment of the director and not the actor. I doubt that Affleck stayed on set to sit under a sheet and not move for long stretches of time. Jack Nicholson famously told Michael Keaton when they made “Batman” to let the costume do the acting. That is exactly what happens here. Rooney Mara fares a little better but her part is also almost without dialogue. The way in which she is displayed sitting on the bed or the floor, or looking out a window, is all a directors choice and it largely works. The two leads have faces that are not used very vividly in the movie, and the rest of them is minimal as well.

I suspect that this experimental type film will be attractive to fans of existentialism. I prefer narrative and character, but I was intrigued by the ideas in the film, at least up to the point where the issue of the infinite became the focus. This is going to be one of those films that when written about, says more about the reviewer than anything else. I hope this commentary does not make me appear to be too shallow, but I do want to appear to be honest. I sort of liked it, but I was also irritated at times. Frankly, you will have to make up your own mind.