Unsettling A24 folk-horror, with fantastic production value and a third act that will split audiences entirely in half with how little it decides to explain itself.
Thematically, it’s very plainly about the abuses that men visit upon women and how they trap them, but it’s how it refracts this idea into vague abstractions and the supernatural that make it symbolic, creepy and grotesque.
There’s a good deal of confronting imagery, a bunch of body horror, plus depictions of stalking, gaslighting and psychological/emotional abuse that will turn a lot of people off immediately.
It’s confusing and oblique, while also being very direct and almost literal. An extremely subjective movie that I enjoyed a lot, and will spend a while trying to entangle exactly what the fuck happened.
HEAVY SPOILERS BELOW
So, the way I’ve interpreted it is like this:
The woman arrives in town, still shaken from the death of her husband, and during her walk through the countryside encounters some kind of newborn, possibly Pagan, entity that becomes enamoured and follows her out of the woods.
This thing can reproduce itself (which it does, very graphically in the final act), but each of these versions seems to align with a particular archetype of masculinity: the preacher/wise father, the cop/authority figure, the nice guy/apparent ally, the adolescent/angry child.
Whether it’s drawing these “types” out of her mind is unclear, but she does mention to her friend that the original version she meets is “a type”, and it seems to have a kind of limited telepathic prescience. That in itself forms an uncomfortable relationship with the kind of victim blaming that some of the versions employ.
Ultimately, it tries to trap her into being with it, in much the same way that her husband had tried to emotionally manipulate and abuse her into staying with him, but it can’t get a grip on what would make her want to stay, so keeps rebirthing itself over and over, interating on these same men over and over again when she rejects each one in turn.
Eventually, the entity able to prise enough information from her mind to birth itself as her dead husband. It’s unclear in the end if she kills it or if the entity finally realises it will never win, so gives up. Either way, she comes to tire of its manipulations, seeing it as pathetic and in doing so achieves a kind of closure.
While it’s very straightforwardly about the abuses men do to women, it’s also not an anti-men film, as some people who’ve only read reviews or seen the trailer seem to think it is. Much in the same way as Midsommar, it’s about trauma, even if the subject and execution are totally different.