Covered in scratch marks and film grain, Mark Jenkins’s experimental, mind-bending horror, Enys Men (pronounced “main”, not “men” – translating as “Stone Island”) feels like uncovering an old celluloid film that was never meant to be watched. Jenkins blurs the line between history and memory, reality and unreality, utilising surrealism and mesmerising editing techniques as viewers follow an unnamed woman (Mary Wodland) living on a rugged Cornish island in the early 1970s to monitor the plant life. However, her time on this ominous place is plagued by nightmares, spectral visions of children straight out of The Wicker Man, and lichen that begins to contaminate the sparse flowers that grow there.
The director’s second feature (following 2019’s Bait) envelopes audiences in the island’s mystique, the stillness interrupted by the rattle of the petrol generator or the tinny sound of a small radio. As the protagonist goes about her monotonous daily routine, more information is gradually unveiled about the setting, which suggests a dark past. The fading names of those lost at sea and derelict mine tracks are physical remnants of its history, whilst spectral apparitions of the miners and a girl take Jenkins’s film in a more supernatural direction. However, it’s entirely up to viewers to piece together these fragments of information to make any sense of the wonderfully weird narrative. And while the filmmaker is willing to divulge some answers, other questions are left wide open to interpretation.
In this project Jenkins once again flexes his mastery of editing. His compilation and warping of sights and sounds creates an intoxicating and unique atmosphere and tone. Several sequences could be dissected repeatedly in film classes. Enys Men is an uncompromising and solid piece of filmmaking. However, in this particular case, it may have functioned better as a short.
At a certain point, the mystery stops being interesting and becomes more frustrating. This is due not to its ambiguity, but to its aimless wandering. The film eventually overstays its welcome with no end goal in sight. Gradually, the intrigue and suspense peters out until all that’s left onscreen is a strange woman doing strange things.
Enys Men does not have a UK release date yet.
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