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Enys Men review
A woman has a series of strange visions while studying the flora of a remote island.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Mark Jenkin

Starring: Mary Woodvine, Edward Rowe, John Woodvine, Flo Crowe

Enys Men poster

Women have long gone mad in horror movies – think Carnival of Souls, Repulsion, Images – but writer/director Mark Jenkin gives this trope a very British folk-horror spin with Enys Men, his followup to his acclaimed debut Bait. Like his first film, Jenkin's latest is in love with an analog past. Set in 1973, Enys Men is shot on grainy 16mm in academy ratio, which gives it the look of some lost instalment of the great British anthology series Play for Today.

Enys Men review

The title refers to the name of a small island off the coast of Cornwall. It's pronounced "Ennis Main" and translates to English as "Stone Island." Its moniker likely comes from the one attraction it boasts – an ancient standing stone that looks like it's been nicked from the set of that great '70s kiddy folk-horror series Children of the Stones.

The island's sole inhabitant is an unnamed middle-aged woman listed in the credits as The Volunteer (Mary Woodvine), who appears to be part of some sort of scientific study. Each day she treks to a cliff edge where a bunch of curious flowers grow, takes the temperature of the soil and writes "No change" in a log book. She also has an unconnected routine of dropping a stone down an abandoned mine shaft every day.

Enys Men review

I say The Volunteer is the sole inhabitant, but several other figures make an appearance. There's a young girl (Flo Crowe) who intermittently appears in The Volunteer's home, and certain visual clues suggest she may be The Volunteer's younger self. The Volunteer often finds herself surrounded by ghostly apparitions of miners, sailors, maids and young girls dressed in white robes as though they've just returned from a trip to Hanging Rock. The closest to another definitively human figure is The Boatman (Edward Rowe), who pops up to deliver petrol for The Volunteer's generator. In flashback we see a priest (John Woodvine, whom horror fans will recognise from his memorable turn in An American Werewolf in London) deliver a sermon to an unseen congregation.

Jenkin doesn't make things easy for the viewer, but if you pay close attention you'll be able to put two and two together. Whether four is the correct answer in this case may be disputed by the filmmaker. Enys Men is one of those movies that feels so influenced by past cinema that it will likely prove more satisfying to viewers unfamiliar with its influences. The movie's ambiguity asks us to fill in gaps with our own projections, but horror fans will spend much of its running time noting similarities to prior genre works. When a piece of flotsam appears bearing the letters O-V-E-N, seemingly part of the name of some stricken vessel, we're immediately reminded of a similar portent in Jon Carpenter's The Fog. When The Volunteer begins to see herself in the distance, Robert Altman's Images springs to mind. Her raincoat might make you think of Don't Look Now. The standing stone recalls a dozen works of folk-horror, while the purgatorial atmosphere is shared with Herk Harvey's hugely influential cult classic Carnival of Souls.

Enys Men review

While Enys Men doesn't resemble very many movies that pop up on our screens in the 21st century, it does little to add to the cinematic folk-horror canon established in the previous century. It's atmospheric to a point but never quite as unsettling as it wants to be, and despite its lofty air it resorts to cattleprod jump scares at points, Jenkin boosting the volume for an effect that relies on primitive shock rather than well constructed scares. Folk-horror buffs will appreciate its reverence. For those viewers who are new to the sub-genre it will either prove an inviting portal or a warning to the curious.

Enys Men
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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