On a remote, rocky island off the Cornish coast, a lone volunteer (Mary Woodvine, "Bait") charts the progress of an unusual clump of flowers, making an entry in a notebook each day. It is April, 1973 and the woman is beginning to run low on the petrol she uses for her generator and the tea she drinks daily as she waits for the supply boat. But something strange is afoot on this windswept isle as the woman begins to see miners, puritanically dressed women and a preacher, all “Enys Men.”
Laura's Review: B
Writer/cinematographer/sound/editor/director Mark Jenkin’s ("Bait") folk horror leaves it to his audience to decide whether his unnamed protagonist is losing her mind in isolation or caught in some bizarre time loop skipping from the present to 1897, the very recent past and even her own teenaged years. The film features striking visuals, shot in Super 16mm in a boxy 1:33 : 1 aspect ratio in vivid color. The volunteer’s eyes are a startling blue, her red hooded rain jacket prominent against a green landscape covered in yellow gorse and fuchsia heather (while also evoking the red cloaked figure from “Don’t Look Now”). The film’s hushed score recalls Popol Vuh’s work for Herzog’s “Nosferatu.”
Jenkin follows the volunteer on her daily walk towards the cliff where those (rather oddly fake looking) flowers bloom, his camera fixed, movement achieved in pans and zooms. She exits through a standalone arch which frames a conical stone in the distance, something which could be a Celtic standing stone or maybe an ancient statue. Close-ups of her face, sometimes peering directly into the camera, are arresting and Jenkin paints a portrait of the volunteer’s existence with close-up cutaways to the implements of her daily routine – a red generator, an old Bakelite radio, a metal tea kettle, a clock and short wave radio. The latter sputters static, a voice at one point asking if she’s lonely. ‘Not really’ is the reply.
So it might be a bit confusing when she opens a door to peer in at a teenaged girl (Flo Crowe) asleep in a bed, a girl she will later see standing quite still on the roof. A close-up of the volunteer’s face quickly cuts to the same of a man (Edward Rowe, "Bait") we will later learn captains that supply boat, as if they are looking at one another. Church ruins on the exterior give way to a finished interior which lists the names of men and eventually holds a preacher (John Woodvine, "An American Werewolf in London") intoning something about a ‘night of sin,’ later found holding a blue-eyed babe. The volunteer will drop stones down the shaft of an old mine until one day a miner (Joe Gray) returns her gaze from far below.
After watching the volunteer make one identical entry after another into her log, we realize it has been leading up to May Day and soon enough young girls dressed in white and wielding branches of white blossoms appear singing, perhaps a Celtic ritual enabled by the volunteer’s picking of one of those flowers she observes. But a wooden sign the volunteer pries from cliff rocks which appears to spell ‘Coven’ and a yellow slicker dashed on the rocks which she takes home and cleans will reappear to tell a traumatic tale of the recent past while lichen and a shared abdominal scar hint at something earlier.
Those looking for straightforward narrative will be denied with “Enys Men.” Those looking for a time-tripping experience, perhaps a descent into madness, will find it here.
Robin's Review: B-
In 1973, a nature volunteer (Mary Woodvine) is sole inhabitant on a deserted island off of the Cornish coast to observe, daily, a very rare flower. In the course of her routine the former inhabitants of the island, long gone, appear to her, blending reality, the supernatural and nightmare, in “Enys Men.”
Do not expect a conventional story conventionally told from writer-director Mark Jenkin with his third feature. Instead, “Enys Men” is several things. First, the camera follows the volunteer as she measures and examines the rare posey each day. The “story” follows her daily routine as she examines her subject, makes notes, starts up her gas generator, cooks a meal and spends the rest of her day very simply.
The woman’s daily routine is interrupted by visions of long-passed island inhabitants, nuns, miners and others showing themselves, making me wonder if this is a ghost story or an analysis of the effects of isolation on the human mind. It could be both, either or neither, it is up to the interpretation of the viewer.
I like to think that “Enys Men” is a combination story. The isolation – her only outside contact is the man on the delivery boat, who stops by infrequently, and her mostly-silent ham radio – quietly builds as she ekes out her life as the undefined “researcher,” with a solitary flower to monitor. I also like to think the spirit of the island’s past inhabitants still exist and show themselves fleetingly and randomly. Then, it could all be an examination of descending madness brought on by imposed isolation.
I think that the average movie-goer would be scratching his/her head trying to figure out what the story is about. My advice is to let ”Enys Men” allow you to wonder what is going on - but do not over think it.
"Enys Men" is featured in the 2023 Boston Underground Film Festival. Neon opens it in theaters on 3/31/23.