Review by Sean Boelman
John Trengove’s Manodrome attempts to be a high-intensity thriller about the dangers of toxic masculinity. While there is an important conversation to be had around these themes, the film fails to incite it in a meaningful way — especially when compared to other movies that have done the same thing more effectively in the past.
The film follows a man who, feeling conflicted about his girlfriend’s pregnancy, spirals down a rabbit hole when he discovers a sect of men who harbor a mysterious secret. As far as thrillers with these themes go, Manodrome follows the formula pretty much to a tee. Had it come out a few years ago, it would have been incredibly timely — and while these problems persist in society today, it feels like there’s not enough to be said about them here.
It’s clear that Trengove wants this movie to be an examination of the toxic masculinity that has embedded itself within our society. However, Manodrome doesn’t add anything new to the genre, and while its story feels tailor-made to skewer some real-life institutions complicit in the spread of this dangerous ideology, it fails to say anything more than this metonymic fictional secret society.
Also frustrating is that the film does not do anything particularly tense with its set-up. It’s entirely clear where the story is headed, so there is very little suspense involved. Had there been more of this, the condemnation of toxic masculinity likely would have been more effective, as it would have struck fear into viewers’ hearts.
The character development in the movie is certainly complex, but Trengove does not thrive in that nuance. It’s always going to be hard to have a main character with such an unlikable philosophy of this, but Trengove fails to explore the devolution in his sanity in a way that is rewardingly provocative. The inevitable shift in the third act also feels altogether too sudden.
Perhaps the biggest issue with Manodrome, though, is that star Jesse Eisenberg feels entirely miscast in the film. Although Eisenberg has done aggressive, unhinged roles in the past — just see his Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman — he’s just quietly awkward here. It feels like this role needed to have more manic energy, and unless the point was to show how even “normal” guys can be indoctrinated (which doesn’t seem to be what Trengove was going for), the performance does not work.
That being said, the rest of the cast fares much better. Adrien Brody is fantastic in his role as the leader of this toxic masculinity cult. He has the right amount of charm to understand how he could hook people in, but the sinister edge needed to get the audience feeling really disgusted at him. Odessa Young also has a quiet, but pivotal role as the girlfriend of Eisenberg’s character, providing a much-needed emotional grounding to the movie.
Manodrome certainly has some very strong elements, but curious casting choices and too much of a disconnect between its story and reality prevent it from having the impact it could have. Ultimately, there are just too many other movies that do this same thing for this to stand out.
Manodrome hits theaters on November 10 and VOD on November 17.