‘Enys Men’ (2023) Review: Unsettling Solitude and Endless Repetition
In the spring of 1973, The Volunteer (Mary Woodvine) is the sole inhabitant of an island off the British coast. She is involved in a botanical research program, where she documents the soil temperature of a spot on the cliffside. Mark Jenkin’s Enys Men (Cornish for ‘Stone Island’) is an experimental folk horror film. The director observes her relationship with the surroundings, documenting her mundane life and job as she battles with unknown demons.
Every morning, The Volunteer monitors an unearthly and rare-looking flower on top of the cliffside. She records the soil temperature, drops a rock into a well, and walks home. She writes “No change” in her log, makes herself a cup of tea, checks the gas levels on the generator, takes a bath and goes to bed. This is her daily routine every day. Her only line of communication is a static radio. One morning, she hears a distress signal on the radio. The Volunteer begins to see a creepy priest and schoolgirls walking around the island. The flower growing on the cliffside appears to have mossy substances, and The Volunteer realises it’s growing on her stomach, too.
The movie is shot on 16mm colour film. The visual imagery is gorgeous, with grainy imagery and desaturated colours that present an eerie atmosphere. Its extensive use of geographical space, such as the cliffside, her home, and where she drops a rock into the well, is shot the same way, with little changes. Every shot is beautiful and serene and shows expansive landscapes that match the tone of the film’s emotions.
However, Enys Men’s problem is the narrative structure. While the film visually flourishes, the plot and the character lack tension. The Volunteer’s hallucinations and daily routines aren’t enough to warrant dramatic tension. She reconnects with old lovers and meets singing school girls, but the storyline with no drama.
Enys Men is visually intoxicating; there’s no doubt about that. Jenkin cleverly uses gorgeous frames and landscapes that elevate the visual imagery. There isn’t a lot of dialogue in the film, but Woodvine performs hypnotically and channels the hallucinations. With its unique style and folklore tales, which could have built more tension, Jenkin archives a dramatic play between reality and misconceptions that complicates the mind of the only protagonist.