Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans



 Directed by Mark Jenkin.
Starring Mary Woodvine.
Horror, UK, 96 minutes, certificate 15.

Released in cinemas in the UK 13th January by BFI and Film 4


Mark Jenkin’s debut film BAIT already carried an otherworldly and discomforting air around it. Mainly due to the unique style of the film; grainy black & white filmed through a handcranked camera with sound effects and dialogue recorded afterwards, and its storyline of a small Cornish fishing towns identity and history being wiped out by an influx of holiday makers and city dwellers, there was an air of something more sinister and ancient lurking around its edges. Now, Jenkin fully delves into the realm of the uncanny with ENYS MEN, a 1970’s set tale of a woman, known simply as The Volunteer, undergoing a ghostly and time-shifting experience on a remote Cornish Island.


This “Volunteer” is examining what appears to be a rare flower, dutifully logging its appearance in a journal whilst waiting for essential supplies such as petrol for the generator that supplies the power for the old stone house, she lodges in. Her daily routine is minimal yet captured evocatively by Jenkin’s camera work, now in grainy 16mm colour and sound recording which again like BAIT has been recorded and added in post-production. Her seemingly mundane daily ritual, always concluding with dropping a stone down a vast well, soon lulls the viewer into a false sense of security before a number of other worldly elements introduce themselves. Figures from The Volunteer’s possible past and of the island itself appear from nowhere, an ominous standing stone outside the house seems to herald an escalating dislocation in time and the flowers The Volunteer is studying begin to have a troubling effect on her.


Jenkin’s singular style nails ENYS MEN’s sense of time and otherworldliness making it of a piece with the folk horror of 1970’s folk horror cinema and television, particularly the BBC Christmas Ghost Stories episode STIGMA being a particular influence. The Volunteer’s bright red plastic cagoule also seems to be paying tribute to DON’T LOOK NOW and Nicolas Roeg’s fondness for playing with time in intriguing and kaleidoscopic ways. The spare style of the storytelling may keep some viewers at a distance, dialogue is kept to the bare minimum and when it does occur it feels unnatural, leaning fully into its BBC Radiophonic Workshop stylings with every footstep, gust of wind and mystical event making an indelible mark on the viewer. While this may be off putting for some audiences expecting something more conventional, fans of the genre and its tropes that once seemed a thing of the distant past will walk away very satisfied while they try to piece together the films mysteries and puzzles for some time afterwards.


As much a sonic experience as a visual one, ENYS MEN fully confirms Jenkin as a singular talent in British cinema. Wearing his influences very much on his sleeve he still manages to deliver something that feels totally original and fresh. Hearkening back to the mythical and factual pasts of his Cornish upbringing and culture this is a perfect example of the genre that seems to be at the height of its popularity now. Its near abstract rhythms soon give way to something more eerie and like the best ghost stories it carries a sense of something unavoidable and inevitable that slowly reveals itself to the viewer, grabbing them in an icy grip. Whether Jenkin decides to stay in the genre for future works is as of yet unknown, but ENYS MEN proves beyond a doubt that it fits him like a glove. Hopefully he does.


Iain MacLeod.


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Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans