Shot on 16mm film and invoking the aesthetics of a 1970s film, writer/director/cinematographer Mark Jenkin’s U.K. psychological horror feature Enys Men (the translation of the term from its original Cornish is stone island) is an intriguing watch. It’s certainly not for everyone, but aficionados of cerebral and experimental fear fare will find plenty over which to mull.
Taking place on an uninhabited island off the Cornish coast in 1973, Enys Men finds a character named The Volunteer (Mary Woodvine) tracking the growth of wildflowers. Her existence there is rather routine and silent — Woodvine’s riveting performance includes sparse dialogue — save for the occasional visit from a boatman (Edward Rowe) who delivers supplies, and some other presences which appear to be human, if perhaps no longer of this Earthly realm. The Volunteer was seeking solitude, but the past of this island is destined to lead her down a path of madness.
Part character study and part look at a bygone culture, Jenkin deals in creeping fear and an atmosphere of building dread rather than jump scares or grotesque set pieces. Enys Men requires undivided attention from viewers, and while some may consider the action to be building as slowly as the lichen on the wildflowers that The Volunteer studies — and disturbingly, that is not the only place it grows — those who give in to the film’s raw beauty including the island’s mesmerizing landscapes and eerie imagery will find themselves rewarded with an absolutely unique slice of cinema.
Enys Men is currently screening in select cinemas.