Nightmare or reality? That’s the question.
Mark Jenkin’s “Enys Men” is an elevated horror film that has its main heroine and the audience questioning what is real and what is a nightmare. It’s not supposed to reach the most obvious approaches to horror films-the kind that most moviegoers spend their money on these days. It’s the kind that looks like it was made in the 1970s, especially when the story takes place in 1973 and when it’s shot on 16mm film, and that couldn’t be more exhilarating. Maybe even iconic.
It’s one of those movies that has you pondering where is this going? It’s not one where us critics have to be the smart ones and compare moviegoers’ tastes, because even we are in question of the movie’s nature. Even I’m not sure what the point of “Enys Men” is. I was more into the dazzling and haunting images and reserved main character than I was into the story. It’s something I can look at and admire the art and creativity, but not something I can really ease into.
A woman (Mary Woodvine), who shall be nameless and is labeled “The Volunteer,” lives in isolation on an island off the Cornish coast, where she wanders around in her red coat, examines a rare flower, and reports back in her journal “No Changes.” The “No Changes” goes on and on, until something amiss goes on.
The flowers she’s examining begins to develop some fungus on it, which starts to startle and confuse her. And she also starts seeing various people-from nuns to previous inhabitants-who may or may not be ghosts. The one who looks and feels real to her is the boatman (Edward Rowe), who supplies her with gas for her generator.
In my perspective, the red coat stands out whenever she goes outside. It really sets the mood. I’m not saying it in a “Schindler’s List” way, because it is photographed in color; I’m saying in a way that helps her stick out to the windy environment. I remember I wore a red coat when I was helping to move the traffic along at the aftermath of a fatal motorcycle crash on a family trip. Seeing her wear it reminds me of that moment in my life.
But even if the coat was blue, yellow, or orange, and so forth, she also stands out with less dialogue and more somber facial expressions. The reason I can’t really recommend “Enys Men” is because the story isn’t fully explained and has us asking questions. Why does she drop rocks down a drain? Why did she really scar herself on her stomach? I can see the reason, but I wonder why she did it in the first place.
Jenkins (“Bait”) knows how to make a cult horror film as the director, writer, composer, and cinematographer. It was filmed for 21 days during the COVID-19 lockdown, which required less people to work with. And “Enys Men” looks great, not that compare and contrast how many people work on movies. In my closing statements, it’s for people who either grew up on 70s horror films or who believe commercial horror films have lost their ways. It’s a film that works better in chilling moments and nostalgic atmospheres than it does on a story. You can just look at it.
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