Bizarre movie seeks cult audience! You might as well have stuck that on the poster. When I tell you the film climaxes like a Monty Python sketch with four successive men giving birth – from a variety of orifices – the first three to emerge different versions of the same character, the last the dead husband James (Paapa Essiedu) of Harper (Jessie Buckley). And that men also appear fully naked, in the form of some kind of vegetation, and can survive despite having an arm spliced from elbow to fingers. And that James desperately wants her to feel guilty about his suicide, triggered by her demanding a divorce.
Of course, all this could be taking place in her tormented mind except that she steadfastly refuses to admit to torment over the suicide even though she does scream her head off in church. If any of this is remotely realistic it points to someone with a severe downer on men, since there is not a single likeable one in sight. Men, in fact, are just four-letter words (choose your own) whose sole purpose is to accuse women of not loving them enough. And women – cue symbolism – are all born of Eve and inclined to eat a forbidden apple.
None of this would be so bad if in attempting a psychological thriller and/or horror film (I am assuming horror because of the births and arms sliced in two) there was actually a shock or two or even a general sense of creepiness. On the plus side, should this ever achieve cult status – “makes Titane look like Paddington” (1 or 2, you choose) – then I am sure director Alex Garland will only be too happy to turn up for a tenth anniversary Q&A and explain his intentions and/or symbolism and if he’s very lucky find an audience composed of students who have written a thesis on the film.
So the story – or did you think there wasn’t one – sees Harper repair to a village in the country to a fantastic country house with all the trimmings including an Aga and a baby grand for two weeks holiday to recover from the suicide, her mind still so muddled that she’s not thought to change her married name. It’s the kind of village where there appears a considerable amount of inbreeding. The letting agent (Rory Kinnear) looks suspiciously like the long-haired vicar (Rory Kinnear) and the rude schoolboy (Rory Kinnear) and the policeman (Rory Kinnear) and the bollocks-naked stalker (Rory Kinnear).
Harper gets lost in the unfamiliar countryside and happens across a tunnel where the echo effects could have been created by Robert Fripp and is then chased by a man (Rory Kinnear anyone?) and then catches sight of the naked man who later appears in her garden looking like an rewilded exhibit from the Chelsea Flower Show. The various versions of the man appear at different points and even when the letting agent appears good (and brave) actually he is just as bad.
I felt sorry for the Oscar-nominated Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter, 2021) for having to put up with this script. I also felt sorry for Rory Kinnear (No Time to Die, 2021) with a movie career so far consisting of supporting roles who must have been convinced that the chance to channel his inner Alec Guinness/Peter Sellers and play multiple characters would have been his breakthrough.
I did not in the slightest feel any sympathy towards Alex Garland (Ex Machina, 2014) for dreaming up this pile of tosh. This is one those films that strides the critic/moviegoer divide. Around 70 per cent of critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave it a positive review but moviegoers disagreed and, as surveyed by Cinemascore, gave it a D score (on a rank from A to F).