Runtime: 91 minutes
Director: Mark Jenkin
Writer: Mark Jenkin
Starring: Mary Woodvine
By Calum Cooper
Three years ago, Mark Jenkin released the bizarre yet magnificent “Bait” (2019). A stunning feature that weaponised its old school filmmaking, with a much appreciated anti-Brexit allegory behind its story, characters and themes, it was one of the best films of the 2010 decade. It was always going to be a tough act to follow, but Jenkin has succeeded with flying colours with his newest film “Enys Men” (2022). A slick, stylish horror movie with much to say on the human condition, it is as ominous as it is richly crafted.
Set on an island off the Cornish coast in 1973, an unnamed wildlife volunteer (Mary Woodvine), watches flowers grow and documents their progress. They appear to be the only flora on the island, and the procedure she undertakes whilst staying on the island appears almost ritualistic. She has clearly been here for a long time. After several days of no change, the flowers start to change as the volunteer seemingly starts to have hallucinations relating to a stone monument on the island.
Jenkin’s signature creative choice is his use of 16mm film, one of the many prevalent choices that personified “Bait”. This appears in “Enys Men” too, with its grainy colour grading and stationery long takes creating the impression that the film was made in the time period it is set. It’s as if we are glancing into the past through the film. If that was Jenkin’s intention then it’s an apt one, for this is a film about reflection in the midst of isolation. Its explorations of grief, memory and loneliness are as thought provoking and sinister as its unique visual style.
A straight, linear story is not Jenkin’s style. Abstractness and experimentation is his game. Not only is this fitting given the often messy nature of memory and emotion, but it enhances the haunting atmosphere that Jenkin builds throughout. Dialogue is so scarce that it’s virtually a silent film. Meanwhile the long, and often repetitive, takes as the volunteer’s day follows the same routine highlight just how alone she is in this already remote location. In between it all, flashes of another life or seemingly supernatural occurrences interrupt the mundanity, just as sudden remembrances of grief invade our minds when we least expect it.
“”Enys Men” is a remarkable work of confident experimentation and thought-provoking visual storytelling. It’s staunchly unconventional in the way it presents its themes, but it would be a fool’s gambit to expect something formulaic out of Jenkin.”
Where “Bait” was a broad commentary on elitism and community, albeit with some great characters in Martin (Edward Rowe) and Steven Ward (Giles King), “Enys Men” is more of a honed in character piece. Although the volunteer is never named, Mary Woodvine’s committed performance, and Jenkin’s bold, confident direction, makes her a universal figure. Whatever your origin or standing in life, we have all felt as isolated as this unnamed character at some point in our lives. Each part of her day, each hallucination she has, and each landmark she comes across as part of her services are thematically linked to her past, and the emotional consequences that have stemmed from them. One especially morbid piece of imagery comes in the form of a large scar across her torso, which seems to start sprouting flora at the same rate the flowers grow. It’s a physical manifestation of the grief she is reliving on this island, and a metaphorical reminder on how the aftermath of horrific events can grow even after the event itself. The deliberate abstractness of the film’s iconography builds the suspense beautifully, and adds a nail-biting dimension to the palpable solitude.
A masterclass of haunting imagery and atmosphere, “Enys Men” has traces of Peter Weir’s filmography within its foundations, with perhaps the most notable influence being the terrifying uncertainty laced in “Picnic at Hanging Rock” (1975). The exploration of mental crisis is straight from the Weir handbook. Yet, through his own signature approach to filmmaking, especially in his fascination with the development and growth of film, Jenkin takes the compelling themes of isolation and sorrow and makes them his own. His ambiguous craft is a dive into the turmoil of human psyche in the aftermath of tragedy and the wake of prolonged loneliness. These are abstract, psychological concepts that even the best storytellers can struggle to articulate. Yet Jenkin conveys the horror of these thought processes in such gripping detail that it’s impossible not to find yourself immersed in the artistic grandeur.
“Enys Men” is a remarkable work of confident experimentation and thought-provoking visual storytelling. It’s staunchly unconventional in the way it presents its themes, but it would be a fool’s gambit to expect something formulaic out of Jenkin. Thematically and aesthetically rich, with a harrowing atmosphere and confidence in its pacing and metaphors, it is like a nightmare made physical; a feat rarely achieved, and often only by masters such as Dario Argento. It is a simply stellar film! No one is making movies the way Mark Jenkin is, and cinema is all the better for it! I would happily watch a hundred more films by him!
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