★★★ out of ★★★★★
🚫 out of 🩸 🩸 🩸 🩸 🩸
Written and Directed by Mark Jenkin.
Make no mistake, 2023’s Enys Men will fall into the annals of polemic filmmaking. Much like its recent brethren, Skinamarink, this film will have people talking, shouting, and even throwing a couple of haymakers. Truly a “love it or hate it” outing at the movies.
Enys Men, directed and written by Mark Jenkin (Bait), is a spartan affair with a capital “S”. Not only is the film packed with minimalistic choices, but its primary driver is the use of vintage 16mm Kodak color filmstock. This choice, and the fact that the film is cramped in a standard definition space, make Enys Men a film that stands out in the crowd — at least visually.
A little bit of Robert Altman’s Images from 1972, a dash of Skinamarink (but mostly set in the day), a little Picnic at Hanging Rock, and a whole lot of quiet and solitude. Enys Men has a definite vision that may or may not be informed by the relatively small universe of its slow-burn relatives.
The film follows a routine and somewhat obsessive naturalist researcher (Mary Woodvine), as she goes about her day(s) on a remote and uninhabited(?) island off the coast of the UK. She checks her five-plus plants, takes a temperature reading, drops a rock in a well, and records her findings in a journal. Over and over and over again.
Her obsessive routine begins to be vaguely interrupted by possible visions of herself as a younger woman, cult-like maidens prancing and singing their way across the island, and a supply boat captain who may/may not be dead.
Sound boring? It actually is. That’s somewhat the point of Enys Men. It lulls you into a dream-like state where you’re forced to pick apart the narrative and provide your own exposition. Director Jenkin provides little dialogue, little history, and only a smattering of facts about the island. The naturalist researcher, credited in the film as “the volunteer”, keeps a stoic face throughout and never really emotes throughout the hour and a half.
The film’s languid pace ratchets up — sort of — when the volunteer discovers that she may have become infected with a lichen that’s disturbing the plant life on the island. Mind you, this story doesn’t really go anywhere, but it does provide a break from her dullard tasks.
Many have criticized the film for not providing the typical horror jump scares, knife-wielding maniacs, and ghoulish grins. It’s a fair criticism, but at the same time, it’s really missing the point of Enys Men. This subtle bit of filmmaking isn’t going to provide you with the answers in a pedantic fit of exposition. It’s up to you to figure it out. You have to piece apart this puzzle.
Most frustrating is the fact that Jenkin sets up many interesting tendrils, but never really follows up on any of them. There were so many scares, frights, and truly terrifying moments that could have been had. The vision behind Enys Men is a bold and beautiful film. The film techniques, location, and acting are stellar, but the story remained a pinch underdeveloped.
Don’t expect Evil Dead Rise, but do expect to be visually enthralled!
Enys Men is PG-13-ish, and currently streaming everywhere.
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