• 04 Jun - 10 Jun, 2022
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

The grim accusation about men – the one about them being all alike – might occur to you during this film, along perhaps with the shrill defensive hashtag #notallmen. It is an unsubtle and schematic but very well-acted Brit folk-horror pastiche from the writer-director Alex Garland; it feels like a reverse-engineered version of The League of Gentlemen, with the overt comic intention concealed or denied. For us, the film never quite addresses the obvious dramatic implications of its startling central conceit: the wacky multirole casting of Rory Kinnear. But there’s undoubtedly something unnerving and outrageous in Kinnear’s performances, with the wigs and false teeth, like a scary-movie remake of The Dick Emery Show.

The setting is a picture-perfect Hertfordshire village with a sumptuously restored Elizabethan manor house, which is being let as an Airbnb. Harper (Jessie Buckley) is an unhappy young woman getting over a tragic event in her life. Her trauma is related to her partner (Paapa Essiedu) who was disturbed, abusive and passive-aggressive. Now she has come to this place for rest and healing.

The landlord is a curious fellow who appears to tell Harper off for eating one of the apples from the tree in the front garden – and then with a mirthless smile assures her that he is joking. On a walk the next day, Harper sees a naked man in the distance, like an Antony Gormley statue, who follows her home and has to be arrested by two police officers when she dials 999. The publican doesn’t seem particularly sympathetic when she stops by later for a drink, and neither does the arresting officer who has come in for a drink himself. And when Harper visits the local church for solace, she is confronted by a creepy, sweary kid and a thin-lipped priest who, having encouraged Harper to confide her woes, implies that they are all her fault.

These men are all played by Rory Kinnear, differentiated with skill and technique. But the audience are entitled to ask: why doesn’t Harper notice or comment on the fact that they all look exactly alike? Is it because, numbed by grief, she doesn’t see it? Or are they a sort of dream she is having, a PTSD hallucination caused by the treatment she has received from her partner? Maybe.

We think the drama’s reality status could have been refined further at the script development stage. Yet the performances are so good.

– Compilation