Enys Men (2022)
Director: Mark Jenkin
Screenwriter: Mark Jenkin
Starring: Mary Woodvine, John Woodvine, Edward Rowe
With his breakthrough feature, 2019’s Bait, Mark Jenkin earned plenty of critical acclaim, crafting an intimate drama so specific to a small area of England that it spoke to many the world over. Naturally, after making such an impact, many of his newly found fans and peers awaited the sophomore effort – or the dreaded second album, as Jenkin himself referred to it. Almost four years later and the new film, Enys Men, can make or break the director’s legacy.
With Bait, Mark Jenkin crafted a film so unique with its post-synced sound, blunt dialogue and bare yet stylistic photography (thanks in no small part to the use of a vintage black and white camera), that he instantly placed his own directorial mark on the film. With Enys Men, Jenkin revisits this style and progresses it appropriately.
All the auteurisms from Jenkin’s previous work remain, and they charm just as easily. However, it is the new additions that truly put a spell on anyone willing to give this British independent film a chance. Enys Men is shot in gorgeous colour film photography, creating not just an accurate representation of 70s British cinema, but casting a wonderful colour palette across the screen that is a beauty to behold.
Enys Men is much more stripped back (in large part due to lockdown procedures during the pandemic) than Bait was. The plot of the film – if you could say it has one – finds a lone woman (Mary Woodvine) isolated on an island off the Cornish coast circa 1973. The actual reasoning for the woman’s stay on the island is unknown and never questioned, though her daily observations of a rare flower hint towards some form of research.
Both the woman and the rock she inhabits are one and the same; two lone vessel’s battered and shaped by time and the natural world that surrounds them, each showing signs of past traumas only they could know. Thus, once the past, present and future traumas of the woman and the island begin to coalesce, the mysteries of both do not unravel, but instead tighten up, culminating in a 90-minute presentation that will leave you puzzled and without the ability to forget this movie anytime soon.
Jenkin opens up room for interpreting his film through ghostly images that appear on the island, in props, and even through the superstitious routines the woman re-enacts every day (checking the temperature of the flowers, throwing a rock down an old mine shaft, for example). Everyone will leave with their own reading – are they all ghosts, flashbacks, flash forwards, maybe even the woman’s own mind deteriorating? – but that is the very pull of the movie, the intrigue. There will surely be new evidence found upon each viewing that will help to enrich any theories you may find yourself gravitating towards originally, and this is a film that is bound to represent different things to different people.
It is in the very mystery of the movie that Enys Men’s horror elements arise. Just as the woman is seemingly alone on the island, you too feel alone in the cinema, transfixed on the screen, scanning every corner of the image in the hopes of finding any clue that might help you to understand what is happening, completely unaware of what is beside you (or worse, behind you).
Throughout the film Jenkin focuses on certain routines or objects, pointing our attention towards a potential clue only to cut us away from our fixed gaze, usually to a horrifying image or to an ear-splitting sound, in a cruel abuse of storyteller power.
Perhaps the greatest mark of a filmmaker’s talent is their ability to adapt their use of cinematic language to each new story they tell. It is in this ability to adapt that Mark Jenkin presents himself as an incredibly intelligent filmmaker, evolving the style of his feature debut into something equally as recognisable whilst being entirely unique in its own right.
Enys Men is a chillingly atmospheric horror that embeds itself into your mind just like the traumas of its main character, leaving you with more questions than answers but one universal interpretation: Mark Jenkin is making films unlike those made by anyone else.