Enys Men

Directed by: Mark Jenkin
Distributed by: Neon

Written by Michael Clawson

A woman in hiking boots, blue jeans, and a bright red rain slicker is alone on a desolate, craggy coastline. Her days are virtually all the same: she awakes, dresses, walks to the blustery cliffside where she’s studying a tiny patch of white-petaled flowers, and then returns home to document her observations (“No change,” she repeatedly writes in her notebook, in reference to the flowers’ invariable shape, color, and delicacy). She reads and bathes by candlelight in the evening; her cottage is powered by a lone generator, which she uses sparingly. 

Such is the transfixing narrative pattern laid out at the beginning of “Enys Men,” a textured and formally audacious work of Cornish folk horror from director Mark Jenkin. The movie’s images recall films like “The Wicker Man” and “Don’t Look Now,” but as its structure kaleidoscopically morphs, it veers towards the more dizzying corners of experimental cinema. The title translates to “Stone Island,” which invites yet another connection: in the dreamlike fashion of “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” “Enys Men” locates mysterious power in its rugged landscape, gesturing towards enigmatic linkages between the earth and the human mind.

16mm cinematography is intrinsic to the film’s nightmarish poetry. As the woman in the red jacket becomes disturbed by visions – some personal, others related to the area’s history – a ghostly atmosphere emanates from the light that Jenkins, working as his own cinematographer, captures so expressively. With jagged editing, he cuts between the surface of the land and the woman’s face as hauntingly surreal encounters upend her routine and send her psyche into a spiral; time seems to fold back on itself as the woman comes face-to-face with fragments of a traumatic past. Unbeholden to the demands of plot-driven filmmaking, Jenkins revels in the construction of an oneiric space, one where the Cornish coast feels eerily alive. It’s never terrifying, but it is wonderfully hypnotic.

“Enys Men” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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