(director/writer: Alex Garland; cinematographer: Rob Hardy; editor: Jake Roberts; music: Geoff Barrow/Ben Salisbury; cast: Rory Kinnear (Greg and eight other men parts), Paapa Essiedu (James), Gayle Rankin (Riley), Sarah Twomey (Frieda, cop), Sonoya Mizuno (Police Operator), Jessie Buckley (Harper), Zak Rothera-Oxley (Samuel); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producers; Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Scott Rudin, Eli Bush: A24; 2022-UK)

“A disturbing misogynist folk horror film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A disturbing misogynist folk horror film by the Brit novelist and auteur Alex Garland  (“Ex Machina”/”Annihilation”). It’s a shocker that earns its good or bad rep by what you think of its over-the-top freaky finale. What’s not questioned is the convincing macabre performances by Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear–playing a number of male parts.

Harper Marlowe (Jessie Buckley) is a young woman who upon the death of her abusive ex-husband, James (Paapa Essiedu), has a traumatic reaction and goes on a solo vacation to the verdant apple-growing remote English countryside of a Hertfordshire village, a drive which takes four hours from her London residence.

The affable but fussy owner of the estate where she’s staying in an Elizabethan Manor is named Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), and gives her a tour of the place warning her not to flush tampons down the toilet because the septic tanks will clog.

Harper talks with her best friend Riley (Gayle Rankin) after checking in and we learn she was considering a divorce just before hubby fell out of their apartment building and was impaled by a metal guard rail. This gruesome death explains her need to get away from the death scene and try to get herself together again.

It’s strange that all the men in town strongly resemble Geoffrey, which Harper seems oblivious to. When a stark naked man (also Kinnear), an Adam-like stalker, follows her out of the garden and attempts to make his way into the house, she contacts a policewoman (Sarah Twomey) who takes her statement. Later two male cops arrest the stalker, but he’s soon released.

Harper freaks when every man she meets intimidates her (the thought is that she might be having a bad dream and is haunted by viewing every man she meets as if it was her hubby James). Again she contacts Riley and tells her she wants to go back home, but Riley tells her to stay and she will soon join her.

I don’t think it ever passed the reality test in its obsessive quest to get in its agenda on male toxicity. But aside from all its silliness, it’s a provocative and sinister tale that uses surreal images to help get a better understanding of what might drive women crazy in a society where men run things.