New to UK Blu-ray, DVD, and video-on-demand platforms this week is the experimental British folk horror, Enys Men. The movie – written and directed by Mark Jenkin – stars Mary Woodvine, Edward Rowe, Flo Crowe, and John Woodwine, and is a somewhat bonkers tale designed to mess with the mind.
Set in 1973, the story focuses on a volunteer who is staying on a remote, uninhabited island just off the Cornish coast. In the film, the unnamed volunteer is there to document the local wildlife, recording any changes in a handwritten journal.
The woman has little contact with the outside world, but does have a radio in the small cottage where she is staying. A generator keeps the power going, and when she’s not got her eye on the flora and fauna, the woman drinks cups of tea, eats simple meals, and makes occasional radio calls with someone on the mainland.
Every day is like the one before, with very little change. The woman appears to be at peace on the island, with bird song and the gentle crash of the sea waves providing the backdrop to her existence.
But things aren’t quite what they seem, and soon the woman is seeing visions of other people on the landscape. Is she going crazy, is time playing tricks on her, or are these ghostly apparitions of the past?
Filmed during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and shot in just 21 days, Enys Men is a low-budget horror picture with a minimal cast and a limited location. In lieu of countless performances, or huge scenes of spectacle, the film instead places its focus on atmosphere and mystery, with audiences enticed in with its intriguing aesthetic, its haunting tone, and its impending sense of dread.
However, the film is also completely barking, and in keeping with other weird and wonderful films of this ilk (The Wicker Man, Don’t Look Now, The Lighthouse, Picnic at Hanging Rock, etc), it may be an acquired taste. Some will deem it far too cerebral for its own good, while others will think it is no less than great.
Enys Men’s biggest strength is its visuals, as well as its ability to transport audiences back to a bygone era. If I didn’t know this movie was shot a couple of years ago, I would have said it was a lost picture from five decades back, because it perfectly captures the time period in which it is set.
On the flipside, Enys Men’s greatest weakness is its perplexing storyline, which will deter many people from watching. At times the movie feels like one of those really creepy British Children’s TV programmes from the 1970s, that appear to have been produced by someone on LSD, and I’m not convinced it makes any real sense.
Some of it does seem coherent, some of if doesn’t, but it is hard to say if this is a misunderstood work of genius, or complete bobbins. Either way, it’s nightmare inducing stuff that probably shouldn’t be watched by anyone who isn’t completely off their box, or at the very least open to something unusual.
Having watched the movie through from start to finish, I’m not entirely sure what the heck Enys Men is all about, or why I like it the way I do. I could make up some kind of argument that it touched me in some profound way, or that I believe it is the sort of film that only people with a superior intellect would understand, but I’d be talking out of my arse – and you’d know it.
I guess the reason I connected with this film is because it baffled the heck out of me, while leaving me feeling rather uneasy. The combination of the abstract imagery and the bizarre story just about hit the spot, and I felt suitably creeped-out while the movie unfolded.
I’m not sure if I would have the same experience on a second viewing, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. Enys Men feels like a film that would benefit from a repeat run-through, so at some point I’ll give it another watch.
As to whether I can recommend the movie to general audiences, well, that all depends on what your tolerance is for films that are unconventional and mad as a box of frogs. If your idea of a good time is a story that makes complete sense, then maybe this one’s not for you.
But if you like films that are challenging, and largely nonsensical, Enys Men could be right up your street. It will definitely get the old grey cells firing, and leave you with plenty to mull over for years to come as you theorise what it could all mean.
Thank you for taking the time to read this review on It’s A Stampede!. For more reviews, check out the recommended reads below.
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