Enys Men (2022) Review
Enys Men, pronounced “Ennis Mane”, is Cornish for Stone Island. And that is where The Volunteer (Mary Woodvine, Intruders, Why Would You?) lives, her seeming sole purpose being to observe and take measurements of a plant that grows near a cliff. She records them in a log book, this is 1973 so it’s an actual paper book, in a column of identical entries.
She lives alone, the island’s solitary human inhabitant, her only human contact being a voice on the other end of the radio and the boatman (Edward Rowe, Dog Years, Let’s Not Do This Tonight) who delivers her supplies. Notice I said only human inhabitant because a series of visions suggest that she isn’t entirely alone.
Writer/director Mark Jenkin (Bait, The Essential Cornishman) stages this with, as you may expect, almost no dialogue. However, there’s almost no narrative either. We see her walking back and forth from her cottage to the plant and back, pausing to toss a rock down an old mine shaft. Occasionally she turns on the generator and the sounds of nature are drowned out by its clattering.
All of this is captured on 16mm film, giving Enys Men the look of something shot in 1973 as well as set then. And the images of the island, its abandoned structures, ocean cliffs, and the standing stone that gives the island its name are impressively captured. But without anything resembling a plot, it’s also rather dull. The film just cuts from shot to shot to shot with no apparent rhyme or reason. I’m sure Jenkin had his reasons for them, but that reason was unrecognizable to me.
It had been suggested to me on more than one occasion that there were moments in BAIT, and BRONCO’S HOUSE (the short that preceded it), where it felt like things were tipping over into horror. The sense of dread and foreboding that underpinned the narrative of both of those films seemed to play to certain conventions of the genre. It was not something that I had consciously intended when making these films and on completion I considered both of them to be relatively straight dramas. Nonetheless it got me intrigued as to the proposition of making my own horror film.Mark Jenkin
As May Day approaches change finally begins to occur, lichen begins to grow on the plant. And on The Volunteer as well. Not that this makes Enys Men any more exciting or even comprehensible for that matter. The film is deliberately vague, even more so than Skinamarink which at least had voices and a vague sense of chronology.
In Enys Men we just get the occasional apparitions, a group of dancing children, dressed for some kind of ceremony. A group of miners from the island’s past. Another miner appears in her bathroom and has the decency to flush when he’s done. There’s a priest, played by Mary’s father John Woodvine (An American Werewolf in London, Wuthering Heights) delivering a sermon to an empty church and a girl (Flo Crowe) who may be The Volunteer as a child.
There are also multiple scenes that recall other genre films, although whether they have any meaning, or are even intentional, is similarly unclear. May Day on an island off the British coast obviously recalls The Wicker Man. The piece of the name plank from a long sunk ship recalls The Fog. The red raincoat she wears, Don’t Look Now. And the plant’s extended pistils, Day of the Triffids, which might also explain her reading a book on surviving doomsday.
What does it all mean? Are there really ghosts or has the isolation driven her mad? Is she a spirit trapped on the island? Your guess is as good as mine because Enys Men is art horror with a capital “A” and Jenkin isn’t explaining any of it, he isn’t even giving hints.
I liked Skinamarink, but Enys Men was just too much, or rather too little, for me. I only finished it because I was reviewing it and the impression it left on me wasn’t so much one of a movie but of a series of scenes pieced together like a cameraman’s showreel. Those more inclined towards this kind of thing will probably have a much different opinion.
Neon will release Enys Men in select theatres on March 31st in the US. Elevation Pictures will release it in Canada. If you’re looking for something else like this, FilmTagger can offer some suggestions,