This article contains major spoilers for Men.
alex garland a24 horror movie MenAvailable now on digital and Blu-ray, it takes viewers from simmering popular horror to full-blown surreal body horror madness.
movie stars Jessie Buckley as Harper, who retires to a rented country estate to start over after her husband dies (Pope Essiedu) early death. The estate’s owner, Geoffrey (rory kinnear), awkwardly giving her a tour of the place, then leaving her to settle in. However, Harper’s plans for peace are quickly shattered when a walk in the neighboring woods catches the eye of someone who appears to be stalking her.
That someone takes on the appearance of several men around him, all played by Kinnear. Or, in the case of children’s characters, a combination of actor Zak Rothera-Oxley and a digitally overlaid Kinnear. Harper’s present torment dovetails with her past; she is as tormented by her abusive relationship with her husband as she is by the inhuman presence that lurks on the estate.
It all culminates in a final showdown in which each iteration of Rory Kinnear’s characters painfully gives birth to one another, a continuous sequence of births filled with blood and body horror until only Harper’s pitiful husband remains.
Garland previously shared how “Attack on Titan” influenced this climactic foray into extreme madness, but it was up to a team of VFX and SFX artists to bring the entire nightmare to life.
Bloody Disgusting spoke with Framestore’s visual effects supervisor David Simpson about this intense sequence and how it was created.
Simpson detailed how the birthing sequence initially evolved from script to screen:
“The draft before I joined had no birth per se; it had a generic, natural transformation, much more in keeping with the motif of the green man and the forest. Then, over Christmas break, Alex had this idea of childbirth, which suddenly unlocks so much more in the next draft of the script. He described the entire history of each other through birth. In the same way, the script establishes a framework that you’re going to try to shoot, but when you’re on set, you want to get input from a lot of people. It gets a little more organic on set.
“We have something similar with previs. We envisioned the whole pacing, storyboarded with Alex, and tried to come up with something that was a rough estimate, similar to the script. So similar in that it was a shell that could inspire people as to what the sequence could be. Then you get to the set and all of a sudden it’s, ‘how can we improve this sequence?’ In the post, it’s once again, ‘how do we make what we shoot even better?’ It’s always just trying to add another bit of improvement on top.”
Men combined VFX with SFX, with both teams working closely on set during production and beyond.
“It was a movie where visual effects and prosthetics worked very closely together. We had a lot of calls and chats from Tristan Versluis, the prosthetic designer. He made sure VFX was involved early on in the process, and we were able to discuss with him what we needed. We had an idea of what would be captured on camera, what would be completely replaced in CG, and what would also be CG-enhanced. You don’t get a lot of opportunities to do things in a hands-on way, and that was one of my favorite things about this project: being able to work with the prosthetics guys in such a hands-on way, rather than just getting stuff in the end,” Simpson said. .
The visual effects supervisor breaks down exactly what the audience is seeing in this gruesome sequence:
“The first birth is, as far as possible because it is still a man giving birth, the closest thing to an actual birth that we could represent. Then progress. The first birth is vaginal birth, and then the second comes out through the navel. This one felt a bit twisted, and it felt a bit unnatural and a bit messy. It was a vagina that replaced where the navel was. We wanted to corrupt it a bit more at each birth, like a photocopy of a photocopy. Each one breaks more and more and gets more marred as we go through the process, which was very deliberate. For me, the strangest one is from the back because it’s so unexpected.
“You want to keep upping the stakes with the sequence. So the first birth, the shocking moment is that he is a man giving birth,” explains Simpson.
“But the second, suddenly it’s a man giving birth in the wrong place; it doesn’t make sense anymore. When you get to the third, you think something is going to be wrong here. What do we do now? That backward birth is so weird and wild and such a strange idea. It’s moving your shoulder blades out of the way and breaking your spine to get room to get your head through. It gets more and more messy. In the final birth, you are waiting for something, but then the feet emerge. Alex refers to this as flipping the cards like in a game of poker. You want to keep turning the next part of the story around and revealing the next interesting thing.”
Being on set during production only enhanced the surrealism of this sequence. The artist breaks down filming this moment of body horror:
“That was a great night. It was very cold, and it was cold for the crew who were there in coats and jackets and bundles up; It’s March in the UK. It was very cold, and all the breath you see, all of that is real. It’s not just breathing. We find that yes [Kinnear] he was covered in fluid or his feet were wet from walking on wet grass that he would see steam coming off other parts of the body. We ended up incorporating the work we did to make it feel cold and scary. He was also such a good sportsman that he surpassed him. same with zak [Rothera-Oxley], who played Samuel and Dad. All three had to be in these skimpy cycling shorts in the freezing UK winter. In terms of shooting that, again, we wanted to try and get something for every shot on camera. We built prosthetics that were rough silicone shells that the actors could push themselves through.
“For example, in the first birth, Zak would kneel down and push through this opening. We had a silicone belly and silicone legs that he could interact with and push off of, which gave us something to frame against. For the second birth, we dug this hole in the front garden to allow Rory to climb in, and then put the shell on top, so he would lift himself out of the hole. When he emerges, that’s Rory…we put the corpse around him. For the third birth, the back birth, we built a slide because we knew that he wanted to go very high and emerge, almost like a baby giraffe being born or a cow being born where they fall; you get those really disgusting consequences.
“We built a slide the right height and a membrane was stretched over an opening so he could push himself through. We have a reference of him going out and hitting the ground. We would record something with the actor, then they would step aside and go warm up. While they were in front of a heater, we would shoot the same thing again, only with no one there. It would be a completely clean version. Sometimes you’re seeing real footage in the edit, and it’s really Rory. And sometimes you’re looking at that clean plate; we’ve replaced everything, and it’s completely CG. But it is difficult to detect which ones are authentic and which ones are fake plates. It’s pretty fun.
The entire team put a lot of effort into making this sequence look and feel as natural as possible, which meant thinking about the anatomical ramifications of what these births would do to the human body.
Simpson explained the difficulties: “I would say that the most challenging part of the nativity scene is finding the actual elements that you want to preserve. We know that he is going to be a man giving birth; we know that this is physiologically impossible. But we need to explain what is going on anatomically and make sense of the process. We wanted it to feel real. What happens when you have a grown man inside your body? Where do your organs go? Where does your rib cage go? If someone enters your throat, your ribcage will need to open up to make room for them to pass through. If they are coming out of the mouth, the jaw will need to be spread or dislocated in some way to make room for them to come out. If all this process is happening, what is happening with the muscles? Do they rip? Are they stretched so thin?
“There are a lot of questions that you have to go through to justify what you’re doing so that it doesn’t just feel like an inflatable human being, it doesn’t just feel like a hollow balloon. We wanted to get things out of the way and dislocate joints. In the first birth, that’s as close as you can get to a real birth. Obviously, a man doesn’t have a birth canal, and even if he did, he wouldn’t be big enough to pass a 12-year-old boy. We begin to think about what happens with the pelvis. Breaks? Where does it break? If the pelvis is broken, what happens to the hip joint? If you watch that sequence, the pelvis is broken and one of the legs is dislocated. It just so happens that the joint breaks. There’s a lot of inside stories going on to try our best to convince you it’s real.”
The level of detail and craftsmanship between VFX and SFX makes for one of the most terrifyingly impressive finishes to the year. Clock Men on Digital and Blu-ray today.