Enys Men: Spellbound in Cornwall

Mark Jenkin’s second feature is a mesmerising and worthy successor to the award-winning Bait

Enys Men
    
Director: Mark Jenkin
Cert: 15A
Genre: Folk Horror
Starring: Mary Woodvine, Edward Rowe, Flo Crowe
Running Time: 1 hr 36 mins

It is said no man – nor woman, indeed – is an island, and yet Enys Men blurs those lines.

Set in 1973 on a lonely Cornish islet, Mark Jenkin’s phantasmagorical follow-up to the brilliant Bafta-winning Bait concerns a mysterious horticulturist (a fearless Mary Woodvine) known only as The Volunteer.

With the mesmerising rhythm of a poem – or the purposeful drudgery of Chantal Ackerman’s minimalist masterwork Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles – every day The Volunteer treks across the gorse, observes a strange coastal flower, drops a stone into an abandoned mineshaft and returns to an isolated cottage where she checks the spluttering generator, reads a book called The Blueprint of Survival and records her findings.

Multiple entries in the ledger read: “No change.”


A radio broadcast announces: “The abandoned island of Enys Men has become a monument of grief.”

Is mourning the reason that The Volunteer begins to see strange apparitions of drowned fishermen and a young woman (Flo Crowe) falling into glass?

Are the hallucinations caused by isolation or is something supernatural going on?

Jenkin keeps us guessing. The eerie orchids, an unnerving solitary standing stone on the horizon, and fragments from a lifeboat add to the sense of otherworldliness.

The film arguably shares DNA with the psycho-geographical works of Pat Collins and Alan Gilsenan

The writer-director’s use of colour 16mm, his (now-famous) 1970s Bolex clockwork camera, and post-production sound anoint Enys Men as the Kernowek equivalent of such classic English folk horrors as The Wicker Man. It’s often difficult to believe that we’re not watching something shot during the early 1970s.

The film arguably shares DNA with the psycho-geographical works of Pat Collins and Alan Gilsenan. When one of the flowers starts to sprout lichen, The Volunteer, too, finds mossy protrusions growing from a scar across her midriff.

Recent sold-out Cornish preview screenings – in which Jenkin’s spellbinding second feature outpaced Avatar 2 at the box office – situate Enys Men (pronounced Ennis Main) alongside An Cailín Ciúin as an argument for films produced for minority cultures and languages.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic