Mark Jenkins’ hypnotic folk horror – The Hollywood Reporter

The title of Mark Jenkins’ elegant psychological drama, Enys Men, is Cornish for Rocky Island, a reference to the isolated landscape where a woman identified only in the credits as a Volunteer (Mary Woodvine) lives alone in a thatched cottage covered with vines. A nearby monolith, shaped like a human and framed at the entrance to the cottage, alludes to the island legend that Jenkin said he learned from his childhood, about girls. Girls are turned to stone to sing on the Sabbath. However, despite its folk horror touches, the film’s atmosphere is more haunting than terrifying. Past and present flow smoothly and a woman’s memory and imagination summons those who cannot be there. Despite all the logic, the film is based on poetic images and associations. It suggests that the scariest thing in the world may be in your own mind.

Every day, the woman inspects a small cluster of flowers growing among the rocks and examines the soil around them, then drops a stone into an old mine shaft. She writes the results in pencil in the ledger, in a long list of “Unchanged”. The date in the ledger tells us it’s 1973, which is the year knitting man was released, a clear background for a film rooted in the pagan history of a remote island. The date also explains why the buzzing shortwave radio was her only means of communication with the outside world. There are no other humans in sight – that is, until she begins to see people from the past, of the island, and of herself. The film’s depiction of extreme isolation and its effect on the mind evokes the notions of Robert Eggers. Lighthouse, but with even less of a story.

Enys Men

Key point

Elusive but fascinating.

Release date: Friday, March 31
Cast: Actor: Mary WoodvineEdward RoweFlo CroweJohn Woodvine
Director and screenwriter: Mark Jenkin

1 hour 31 minutes

Enys Men came after film festivals including Director’s Fortnight at Cannes and the New York and London Film Festivals. Before that, Jenkin made a small splash with her 2019 movie bait, winner of the BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut in the UK, but has only been released in the US for now. As he did in bait, here Jenkins writes, shoots, edits and performs the sound, with the aesthetics and cinematography at the heart of any story.

He creates an intentionally vintage look for Enys Men, reflects the 1970s. Movies were shot at 16mm aspect ratio and 4:3 boxy, using a hand-cranked Bolex camera. Saturated colors capture the bright sea and gray cliffs, with splashes of scarlet from the woman’s gown and barely working generator to keep the cottage’s lights on. Sound is also essential, given the humming or small wind that Jenkin makes on the synthesizer. That handcrafted feel fits perfectly into the confined, closed world he creates.

The style is full of close-ups, on the woman’s boots, on the rocks and on Woodvine’s always calm face. She moves slowly and ominously tends to ignore messages from the radio. Midway through, just as her routine was starting to feel too repetitive, she noticed that lichens had begun to grow on one of the flowers — a gong sound noting this as an event. dramatic — and more images began to appear. A man in a yellow raincoat visited from a supply boat, although she had previously found the same jacket floating in the sea and the boat he was riding in appeared to be a wreck. in 1897. She even discovered a piece of the boat. name from its hull and place it on her fireplace.

Memory, imagination and reality blur. A young woman who appeared to be younger than the Volunteer appeared in the small house, sleeping on a bed and often standing on the roof. There is only a hint of her identity at the end of the film, when we see an incision on the young girl’s body that resembles the one on the Volunteer. After the lichens began to grow on the flowers, the lichens also began to grow on the Volunteer’s scar.

Maybe the lichen on the body is “real” in the fictional world of the movie, or maybe she’s imagining it. Jenkin doesn’t even let us know for sure if this is really a ghost story. Events are viewed almost entirely from the woman’s point of view, but not always. What do we do with the scene where she’s facing the camera, but behind her is a group of women from her past — like the Seven Handmaidens on her powdered milk package label — watching her? The century these numbers come from is also not specified. What is clear is that the past is looming in the Volunteer’s mind, as if she is being enveloped by nature and the island itself.

A second viewing may be required to appreciate just how complex Jenkin has layered the film. Volunteers read by candlelight at night, always the same pamphlet, Blueprint for survival (an actual book Jenkin found). Many visions from the past are placed adjacent to that reading, including a more or less 19th-century pastor who delivered a lively lecture. An old miner was reading a book while sitting in his cottage, then casually pulling his pants out and walking out the door (a hint of wit in his eyes). Enys Men).

All of this is compelling even when it’s not obvious, as the film’s aesthetic appeal and pacing make up for any confusion. Anyone looking for answers or clarity will likely skip the movie soon, but it rewards multiple views for anyone willing to interact with it.

Earlier this year, Jenkin curated a season at the British Film Institute, and an essay that accompanies it begins with a quote from Robert Bresson that perfectly describes what he has done to achieve the effect. so great in the movie. Enys Men: “I want people to feel a movie before understanding it.”

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