Men: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear on Alex Garland’s nightmare ride

We exclusively speak to stars Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear about working with Alex Garland on his upcoming folk horror, Men.

Men: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear on Alex Garland's nightmare ride

Men, writer-director Alex Garland’s spooky follow-up to Ex Machina and Annihilation, blends body and folk horror for an enigmatic mood piece.

In the aftermath of her husband’s death, Harper (Jessie Buckley) takes a solo vacation in the English countryside, only to be plagued by various male aggressors, all portrayed by Rory Kinnear in multiple guises.

We spoke with Buckley and Kinnear about collaborating with Alex Garland…

What was your relationship to Alex Garland’s previous work?

Rory Kinnear: I did an English degree maybe a year after The Beach came out and everyone hated him because he was the successful young novelist they figured they’d end up being. And so, I was surprised to see him pop up on 28 Days Later. Coming to work with him, I probably still had that idea of him as a novelist. And that if anyone had been a novelist, they’d be wanting to be in control of every word said in their films. The experience of actually working with him was completely opposite. Presumably, that’s why he no longer wanted to be a novelist, because he wanted that sense of collaboration.

Is there anything tangibly different to the approach of a writer-director who started in novels?

Jessie Buckley: Sometimes that separation between a writer and a director can mean you read a script and don’t really know where that’s going to be taken in the hands of a director. But with working with people like Alex, you know it’s just one distinctive voice and he’s written this very clear visual landscape and that’s the jumping-off point. That’s great because you feel you’re immediately in relation to that and will continue to be throughout filming.

Kinnear: For a novelist, he’s incredibly visually led. His films exist so much as a visual thing to absorb rather than necessarily spelling it out.

Harper (Jessie Buckley, pictured) takes a vacation in the English countryside, only to be plagued by various male aggressors

How was making a movie that utilises nature so strongly?

Buckley: I loved it. You can’t beat being on location. Sometimes when you’re in a studio you go a bit gaga. What I love about what Alex and Rob Hardy, Alex’s cinematographer, have done is that the natural world is as much a character in the film as we are.

It lulls the audience into this hypnotising yellow brick road, making them lean towards the things they’re most afraid of, instead of leaning away. The natural element is so sewn into the fabric of this film, in the [biological] turnover and life and death. I think he used that and shot it so beautifully. I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen England like that before on screen, where nature is so vibrant.

In the flashbacks, Harper’s apartment has this apocalyptic orange hue…

Buckley: I don’t know why they used that, but actually, we shot that right at the end and it was this very strange weather day. The sky was almost that colour, and there was thunder and lightning one minute and clear sunshine the next, but there was a redness in the sky that night. I quite like that colour. It looks like blood, it’s very strange.

Harper’s apartment has this apocalyptic orange hue in the flashbacks.

Men isn’t a doppelganger movie per se. Harper doesn’t ever explicitly acknowledge that the village’s men all have the same face…

Kinnear: I was sent the script with a note saying, “You’ll be playing all of them if you want to.” You could sense what an impact that would have, as long as each character felt like they could belong credibly enough in this village and that they all had to seep out of the location just as much as the natural world that Rob was going to photograph. And also, you knew if that Harper was aware of it, it would be just a procession of double-takes, which would lose its impact over the course of the film. You knew it was making a seriousness of point and there was a purpose to it above and beyond a normal narrative.

Is there one thing above all that you hope audiences take away from Men?

Kinnear: It’s more a question of how you want people to approach it, rather than how you necessarily want them to come away from it. There’s an openness it probably asks of an audience, in that sense of being just as responsive to the emotions it provokes as the thoughts. And that working on that primal emotional level has got just as much value, if not more, than working through it in a kind of rational, scientific way. And not to be, I guess, scared of not understanding it or not. Everyone’s response is valid.

Men: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear on Alex Garland's nightmare ride
Rory Kinnear says that Men asks an openness of the audience – everyone’s response is valid

Jessie, would you like to play multiple characters in a movie?

Buckley: Sure, why not. Multiple faces of women, I wonder what that would look like.

I’m thinking of that story of James Cameron pitching Aliens by adding a dollar sign to ‘Alien’, and imagining ‘Men’ being adjusted on a whiteboard to ‘WoMen’.

Kinnear: Or a Euro symbol instead of the ‘e’…!

Men will be released in cinemas on 1 June. Read our review here.