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…
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 Men – meaning “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. It is released in UK cinemas on 13 January 2023.Where to watch