Review by Sean Boelman
Recent years have seen more experimental horror and genre-adjacent films receive a large platform and wide theatrical releases. Mark Jenkin’s Enys Men has the backing of cinephile-favorite indie studio NEON, and while it is too experimental for most audiences, its niche will certainly enjoy its unique
The film follows a wildlife volunteer who observes a rare flower daily on an uninhabited island off the Cornish coast, only for her daily routine to begin to affect her psyche. There are a lot of comparisons that could be made as to the vibes that Jenkin is going for, and yet the film still feels entirely idiosyncratic.
It’s hard to even describe the film as a slow burn, because it is so experimental and ambiguous that it barely moves along. Although the film has been billed as “art horror,” doing so seems unfair because someone will see the nautical setting and immediately expect something akin to The Lighthouse. Instead, what we get is something much more eerie and psychological.
Undoubtedly the most impressive part of the film is its use of imagery. Although there aren’t any individual images that stand out or linger particularly long, the entire film’s atmosphere — brought about primarily by the imagery — is quite effective. Jenkin’s cinematography is stunning, both in its ability to capture the beauty of the landscapes of the eponymous island and in its capability to unsettle.
The use of sound in the film is also quite effective, which is important given that there is so little dialogue in the movie. The score — also by Jenkin, who seems to be a jack of all trades, and surprisingly, a master of quite a few of them — does a great job of creating tension, even when the action on screen may not demand it.
Similarly, much of the film’s success hinges on the lead performance of Mary Woodvine, who is absolutely fantastic. Although there are some additional actors who come and go throughout the runtime, a majority of the film’s length is Woodvine by herself, wandering around the idea, interacting with its flora and making observations. She is surprisingly captivating in doing that.
If there is one thing that is frustrating about the film, it’s that it is extraordinarily ambiguous. It’s really hard to pick a message out of the film’s thin narrative. For better or worse, Enys Men is the type of movie where a group of people could sit and watch the movie together and each come out with a different interpretation.
Enys Men is not a particularly rewarding cinematic experience because it is so ambiguous, but it’s also hard to deny how well it is made. Cinephiles will certainly find themselves in awe of the film’s pure technicality, even if they aren’t as impressed by the narrative.
Enys Men opens in theaters on March 31.