[Movie Review] ENYS MEN

The land remembers what the mind does not and, when the mind is restless, it will conjure up all manner of memories to assault the senses. In director Mark Jenkin’s latest folk horror film, ENYS MEN, the disjointed and scenic film seems to explore these concepts but with an unclear narrative. In a film fraught with symbolism, it is questionable whether or not Jenkin succeeds in his efforts to convey the depths of the meaning he’s striving for.

In ENYS MEN, we follow a researcher (Mary Woodvine) on this aptly named Stone Island. She seems to be alone and in complete isolation. Her only connection to the outside world is via the radio. Her daily routine consists of venturing outside of her cottage to inspect a grouping of flowers for reasons undisclosed. After checking the ground temperature and observing its exterior, she makes her way back to the cottage, stopping by on the way to an abandoned mine shaft to drop a stone in before heading home. The last landmark she sees before she returns is a stone pillar of sorts. It is this pillar that seems to be the key to the strangeness soon to be unleashed on the woman.

Displacement starts to occur when a mysterious girl (Flo Crowe) appears. Unphased, the woman continues her daily routine. That is until lichen starts to form on both the flowers and the stone. Soon, she begins to hallucinate, conjuring up the spirits of former island inhabitants and all sanity threatens to break.

Loneliness conjures madness

Courtesy NEON

ENYS MEN baffles in its embrace of the abstract. There are no clear-cut answers in the film’s narrative, rendering the film arguably an easy contender for the most polarizing film this year despite us just barely wrapping the first quarter. Sharp edit choices of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety are deployed to hide clues. But, with the film’s slow execution of the researcher’s routine,  those with shorter attention spans will likely miss much in those quick flashes.

That’s not to say that the slow pace isn’t worth it. There’s much to observe, especially in the film’s second half. The hallucinatory unearthing of the island’s past inhabitants clues viewers into the history, in particular, Cornwall’s extensive mining history. With a more linear storyline, would there have been better room to explore this particular inclusion of the traumatic backstory here? It’s hard to say. We get little breadcrumbs of possibility, but ENYS MEN is not that kind of tale.

Mary Woodvine’s The Volunteer is also mesmerizing. Close-up shots of her face highlight her micro-expressions, conveying so much with little. Loneliness and isolation have done its part and we see it etched into Woodvine’s face. How much of this isolation is self-imposed will be up to the audience’s interpretation as will the question of what The Volunteer is actually witnessing. Part of the ambiguity in finding an answer has much to do with The Volunteer’s reactions.

Final takeaways of ENYS MEN


The imagery of ENYS MEN is strong. There’s clear inspiration Jenkin is pulling from. Shooting on 16mm crafts an otherworldly visual that works. It renders the film to look like it’s trapped in a pocket of time, with its grainy quality and periodic red splotches adding that extra level that comes with film. The island is captured to perfection, with the wardrobe decision to clothe The Volunteer in bright red creating a focal point.

Imagery and symbolism are great in a story but, in leaning too far into the abstract, ENYS MEN comes across as untethered. While reality slips are present, there is nothing tangible in the story to reel us back in. This is in spite of the clues that are peppered throughout the course of the film. As an experiment, there is some success in the visuals and performance. However, as a whole, ENYS MEN has trapped itself in a box with little room for escape.

ENYS MEN is now in theaters via NEON.

Sarah Musnicky
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