Long after the credits have rolled, viewers will still be thinking about Enys Men.
This film was a very unique horror movie (to say the least) and was directed by Mark Jenkin, who is also responsible for the narrative, editing, cinematography, sound, and score. A mystery-style film with folklore horror vibes, Enys Men calls for some pretty heavy decoding. As viewers are thrown into the story like detectives asked to piece together the plot from the leads that are given, the entire film feels like a puzzle to be assembled.
The main character, only known as “The Volunteer,” is the sole focus of the film and played with complexity and depth by Mary Woodvine. While stationed on an isolated small lighthouse/island in Cornwall, she is tasked with keeping an eye on the development and health of a seemingly normal patch of flowers. Yet, mysteriously, time seems to be bending strangely around her. The Volunteer’s notes are all dated to April of that year, despite the radio broadcasts mentioning a monument built in May 1973 that was dedicated half a century earlier. Although her house begins to deteriorate between scenes, it appears to be rebuilding itself throughout the movie.
It becomes more obvious throughout the movie that reality, as it exists for The Volunteer, is seriously flawed. She starts to see ghostly representations of people, including miners, fisherman, an ex-lover, and possibly even a younger version of herself. The Volunteer might be haunted by others who share the fate of dying near the island, since the radio mentions a monument built as a sign of community sorrow for those who perished at sea. Is she one of the victims, a spirit that is retracing her own death’s steps? Or is there another reason for her paranormal experiences? The fact that the movie draws the audience into the mystery and compels them to solve the puzzles alongside The Volunteer is a credit to Jenkin’s brilliance as a storyteller, even though the movie does not provide obvious answers.
Shot on 16mm, the film is expertly directed by Jenkin who gives the piece a dreamlike quality that is both eerie and absorbing and goes very well with the folk-lore style. The movie is steeped in classic horror tropes as well. For example, when the maidens in white dart in front of The Volunteer, viewers are conditioned to find them unsettling. But there is also something distinctly unnerving about Enys Men, as if the movie is drawing on some unnameable primal phobia that all people have.
Overall, not everyone will enjoy Enys Men. It is complex and asks a lot of its audience to even understand it. Nonetheless, it is a rewarding experience for those who are prepared to put in the effort. With a film that is pretty much entirely symbolic, Jenkin challenges viewers to solve the mysteries and piece together the plot like puzzles. Although it is a difficult task, it is ultimately worthwhile. Enys Men offers both a nod to classic horror and a daringly original take on the genre that should please those who enjoy unique thought-provoking movies.
Enys Men is in theatres on March 31st, 2023.