Set in 1973 on an uninhabited island off the Cornish coast, a wildlife volunteer’s daily observations of a rare flower turn into a metaphysical journey that forces her as well as the viewer to question what is real and what is nightmare.
‘Enys Men’ is the hotly anticipated follow up to ‘Bait’, Mark Jenkin’s superb debut movie about gentrification in Cornwall which proved a hit with critics and audiences on its release in 2019. ‘Enys Men’ (pronounced ‘Main’ and meaning ‘Stone Island’ in Cornish) retains the setting of Jenkin’s native Cornwall, alongside the grainy aesthetic that make his films appear as if they’ve been rediscovered from the past, but for the most part abandons any semblance of narrative to tell a tale of folk horror on one of the uninhabited islands off the Cornish coast.
The story, of what story there is, follows an environmentalist known only as ‘The Volunteer’ who is tasked with carrying out daily observations of a rare flower. She’s played by Mary Woodvine (Jenkin’s partner) and we follow her as she starts to experience strange visions as she carries out her observations, with the movie suggesting that the flower itself may be driving these experiences. This is exacerbated by her isolation, forcing her to question what is and isn’t real, although perhaps the trick is on the viewer itself with little to make clear whether the series of visuals are playing out in a linear fashion or not. Unlike ‘Bait’, ‘Enys Men’ doesn’t really have a story – it’s more a series of moments and images and I’ve seen it described as more like an art installation than a narrative movie. Sadly, I have very little interest in art installations, and I thought ‘Enys Men’ was meandering, dull and felt much longer than it’s fairly thrifty 90-minute running time. I’m willing to admit I didn’t really understand it, and even if that is the point, it didn’t make for a stimulating experience.
If I could find something positive to say I’d say it was quite eerie and atmospheric at times, and there’s something to be said for a movie that doesn’t bow to traditional narrative conventions – that is, if it manages to hold your attention throughout (which it certainly didn’t for me at least). ‘Enys Men’ may play better in Cornwall where people are familiar with the folklore and the setting, but it left me bewildered to be honest and I really didn’t like this movie at all.
Directed By: Mark Jenkin
Starring: Mary Woodvine, John Woodvine and Edward Rowe