Have you ever been stuck in a rut? Doing the same thing day in, day out. The same rituals, the same tasks, the same autopilot life? Now imagine that – but you’re on some uninhabited island off the coast of England where your only friends are a group of rare flowers. If you weren’t on your way to Looney Town before, you’ve got a first-class ticket now.
That’s essentially Enys Men in a nutshell. That’s not totally fair. There’s more to it than that! Mark Jenkin’s latest feature is a slow, experimental folk horror ‘70s period piece about a woman tasked with studying a group of flowers on a remote island. It’s just her, the flowers, a red jacket, and the dwindling supply of gas for the generator. And let us not forget the ghosts of years long gone! Or are they simply a figment of her tormented mind? Who’s to say?
Enys Men is a challenging film, one that foregrounds images, feeling, mood, sound, and texture over any sort of narrative. Jenkins does not give the audience much to go with and leaves it up to us to create any sort of meaning out of what we’re watching. For some, that’s a recipe for a frustrating night out at the movies. For others, it’s an engaging experience worth having.
The film is purposefully tedious, as if Jenkins is provoking the audience’s impatience. How much are they willing to take? But, there is a tension in the narrative repetition. When the same things happen over and over again, there is a feeling that something is bound to snap. What are the consequences if a daily ritual isn’t correctly observed? The dread and foreboding is palpable, and brings to mind the insanity-inducing isolation of The Shining, or even the more recent film, The Lighthouse.
And to be sure, there is a snap – a moment where the stasis morphs into instability; into borderline lunacy. Soon enough, our protagonist is no longer alone. She’s visited by miners with coal-caked faces, a lone priest, ghostly girls dressed in 1800s fashion. Are these visitors ghosts? Are these memories? Past or parallel lives? A buzzing, otherworldly rock, a sort of paganistic monolith, beckons to her. Is the natural world trying to claim her? Does the lichen that begins to grow on the flowers she’s studying, and that begins to grow on her scarred body, signify something greater than a nightmare? These are the questions presented to the viewers. But it’s wholly up to us to engage and answer them.
Maybe it’s because Chantal Akerman’s masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles recently made quite the cinematic stir when it topped Sight & Sound’s “Greatest Films of All Time” critics poll, but I couldn’t help but see some parallels between the two films. Both films center around a middle-aged woman and her daily life, where she dutifully repeats the same tasks, day in and day out. Both films have a real dedication to monotony. And both lead to a sort of catharsis. Except Enys Men is more like Jeanne Dielman meets The Wicker Man. The woman’s calendar is counting down to May Day, after all! So if that’s your bread and butter, then this is the flick for you.
Enys Men is an unconventional horror that leans hard into the aesthetics of ‘70s cinema, to the point where it really does look like some uncovered film from that period. The dedication to craft is extremely impressive. So if you go gaga over film grain, and the aesthetics of film and ‘70s cinema, you just might love this. But beware; for many, boredom is the scariest thing of all. And this will surely push the limits. I, for one, find it inspiring to see that movies like this can be made and screened in theaters. There is hope yet!
Enys Men is showing at the Riviera Theatre for three days only: April 14th – 16th Fri: 9:45pm / Sat: 9:45pm / Sun: 8:45pm