Cannes 2022

Enys Men review – Cornish folk horror is a patience-testing visual banquet

British filmmaker Mark Jenkin returns with an experimental throwback that is as incoherent as it is formally inventive

A rock hits the bottom of a well. Hands carefully inspect flowers growing at the edge of a cliff. A woman scribbles down information about the weather on a yellowing notebook. A rock hits the bottom of a well. Hands carefully inspect flowers growing at the edge of a cliff. A woman scribbles down information about the weather on a yellowing notebook. A rock hits the bottom of a well. Hands carefully inspect flowers growing at the edge of a cliff. A woman scribbles down information about the weather on a yellowing notebook…

In Mark Jenkin’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2019 drama Bait, dread is translated through the disruption of lengthily established patterns. The first half of Enys Menmeaning “rock island” in Cornish dialect – is set as an eerily quiet Groundhog Day, with a lone botanist (played by Jenkin’s partner and collaborator Mary Woodvine) making her way from the cottage where she lives alone with only a small raucous generator for electricity to the top of the cliff where a single mound of flowers wrestles against the brutal coastal wind. Once the cadence is solidified, the director abruptly steers into disruption, harnessing horror out of narrative whiplash.

The vivid tangibility of the 16mm cinematography coupled with Jenkin’s passionate dedication to form makes Enys Men a singular visual experience. Shades of blue merge into one another, the ocean kissing the sky, bright turquoise eyes attentively scanning the rhythms of the tides. Green is the healthy grass of summer days, the solid stalks that feed life into blossoming flowers. Beige stands for the olden walls that have sheltered generations, the bread that kept fishers and miners sturdy on their feet, the yellowing pages of books read by candlelight.

Alas, if its visuals border on the exceptional, the same sadly can’t be said of its pace. What starts as an alluring fable slowly dissipates into muddled incoherence, as though a top of the line sports car stuttered at a hill start. The horror tropes play as an afterthought, the camera much happier when resting in quiet contemplation than when frantically travelling through a messy plethora of unexplored triggers. Questions are left unanswered for the sake of furthering trepidation but end up only emphasising the inefficiency of the third act.

Even if it never quite strikes the same brilliance of his directorial debut, Enys Men marks a notable refinement of Jenkin’s technical craft, a step-up that firmly solidifies the filmmaker as one of the most exciting voices in New British Cinema. For all that the film lacks in the maturity of its storytelling, it makes up for in bold experimentation, an all-engulfing cinematic banquet that, while not entirely successful in its landing, still makes for one striking, rivetingly idiomatic ride.

Enys Men was screened as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2022. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

Where to watch

More Reviews...

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio review – pure poetry in stop-motion

The director's first animated feature, a bold musical reimagining, is a spellbinding cinematic song of life, death and innocence

Lady Chatterley’s Lover review – well-acted and raunchy Netflix adaptation

Emma Corrin impresses in Laure de Clermont-Tonnerr's sexually-charged take on the classic novel, though it fumbles the ending

Spirited review – Apple’s musical take on A Christmas Carol fails to find the magic

Ryan Reynolds and festive sincerity prove a sour mix in this cynical new adaptation. Where are the Muppets when you need them?

Clara Sola review – luscious story of a woman’s fury is a sensual delight

Swedish-Costa Rican director Nathalie Álvarez Mesén explores female desire and emancipation using non-professional actors

Features

Starter Pack: A Guide to Noirvember

As the month-long celebration kicks off again, Steph Green offers a pathway into the most morally murky of all movie genres...

Goran Stolevski on You Won’t Be Alone: “The film is about witches, but it’s also about feelings!”

The Macedonian-Australian director's bewitching debut feature is a Balkan fairytale that grapples with identity and humanity. Fedor Tot talks to the filmmaker ahead of its UK release

10 Must-See Films at BFI London Film Festival 2022

As the latest edition of the festival returns to the capital, Ella Kemp highlights some of this year's most essential features

Every David Cronenberg Film, Ranked

To mark the release of Crimes of the Future, Steph Green sorts the body-obsessed auteur's vast filmography from worst to best...