The sense of an occasion is palpable as Mark Jenkin introduces Enys Men to a full house, and answers questions from the audience after the film. In particular, he is generous in giving advice and encouragement to young and emerging film makers, stating that living in a relatively remote area outside the London film industry is not necessarily a disadvantage. The important thing, he says, is to find your own passions and plough your own furrow.
We are transported to Enys Men (pronounced Enys Main, Cornish for Stone Island) a remote, fictional Cornish island, on the days leading up to May Day 1973. It is shot on 16mm colour film which makes the time and place feel richly authentic. Jenkin later explains that he developed his distinctive style by following his passion – a deep love for analogue equipment and techniques. He edited it all by hand, and created the soundtrack using tape loops. He also comments that, paradoxically, the more specifically he locates a film in time, place, and subject matter, the more universally relatable it seems to be when he goes out and speaks to audiences all around the world. This certainly seems to be the case with the success of his previous film, Bait, and the signs are that the same will be true of Enys Men.
In the film, we witness a woman’s walks over the island as she makes daily observations of a rare flower. Nature: the flowers, gorse, blackthorn and lichen, interweaves with traces of human intervention through the ages: the standing stone, the cottage, and the mineshaft. Her rituals lull us into a kind of dream state, looping over and over, punctuated by nightmarish flashbacks/ flashforwards and ghostly presences, hinting at the woman’s story and the island’s history. It speaks the language of horror films, but this is chopped up and used in new ways. The creation of a specific atmosphere, rather than a linear narrative, is what drives the film. You can almost feel the Cornish fog drifting through the auditorium, enveloping you in its world. Jenkin’s stated aim is to represent the way our minds experience time, saying the main purpose of his (and maybe all) film making is to “communicate the way we dream”.
As a contrast to the eerie sense of mysticism, everything about the woman’s daily rituals and her minimal, scrubbed stone cottage is clearly articulated and imbued with significance. There are lingering close ups of her equipment: the battered kettle boiling on the hob, the generator, the radio device, and her neat updates in the logbook written with a scratchy pencil. This appeals to some of our longing for a simpler life, and there is something nostalgic and almost comforting about the mid-20th century equipment. Enys Men was made during the Covid-19 lockdowns when many of us clung to our daily routines and rituals to keep ourselves sane and anchored to something “real” or “civilised”. Perhaps this is also what the woman in the film is doing, in her own situation.
There is some discussion as to Enys Men’s genre, as to whether it is folk horror. This is inconclusive, even to Jenkin. What is striking, though, is that with many of the audience fresh from a protest on Dartmoor earlier in the day, the film’s deep connection with the wild landscape of the far southwest feels significant and familiar. No, maybe Enys Men does not tick all the prescribed boxes for Folk Horror, but it feels as though it is part of the evolution of a movement in cinema, music, art and literature in which people are looking to nature and myth for meaning and connection beyond that which we can rationally explain, and that this is tied to the uncertain times in which we live. Some of the questions get close to what might be the meaning(s) at the heart of the film. Theories abound, but Jenkin is wisely elusive, guarding its mysteries like a rare flower.
Enys Men is screening at Plymouth Arts Cinema until Wednesday 15th February.
Written by Charlotte McGuinness, Marketing Manager
Photos by Dom Moore