Folk horror is a genre that has become ever more popular in recent times, after originally being established in the 1970s with films like The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan’s Claw. Recently we’ve had films like The Witch, Hagazussa, and In The Earth that have expanded the genre, and now Enys Men, directed by Mark Jenkin, who made the acclaimed film Bait.
Enys Men is set on an uninhabited island in Cornwall in 1973 and follows the daily life of a volunteer who is studying the flora and fauna of the area. She finds a rare flower growing and begins to focus on its growth, but as she does she begins a mysterious and metaphysical experience where differentiating between real and hallucination becomes impossible.
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Enys Men is a quite terrifying experience, with a sense of tangible dread apparent from the first second. It’s full to the brim with haunting imagery that often feels very hallucinatory, and this is coupled with an incredibly impressionistic feel, certainly from the editing. It’s not really a traditional narrative piece, much more a kind of puzzle perhaps, and it’s very much a film that you begin to decode as the imagery and the sound soak in.
The sound is an important factor, with a heady mix of obtuse and earthy sounds and things we’re familiar with, like the seemingly-constant stream of a CB radio. Everything feels heightened, and very much like there is a psychological field in and around the island adding to the tension. Then there’s the amazingly creepy score, composed by Jenkin himself, along with the appearance of folk tunes, which are often just eerie enough by themselves.
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The film also looks beautiful. It was shot in 16mm, and it has a wonderfully desolate look that really pushes forward the sense of isolation for the island, using the Cornish landscape exquisitely. Along with that, there’s Mary Woodvine as the volunteer, who spends most of the time using her body language, and she’s fantastic. Just intense and really haunting.
Enys Men brings across thoughts about the relationship between ourselves and the land and the history that the land itself contains. It reminds me a lot of Nicolas Roeg’s classic horror Don’t Look Now, especially the use of primary colours and the way it approaches the viewer and asks them to interpret the film. Thinking about time and space and metaphysical aspects that expand into the themes of the picture.
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The film has been brought to Blu-ray by the British Film Institute in an excellent package with many thoughtful features. The film presentation is incredible, with an aspect ratio of 1.45:1, and a fantastic 5.1 sound mix, and the extra features are plentiful.
There’s an audio commentary with Jenkin and Mark Kermode, a recording of a Q&A with Jenkin, Kermode, and Woodvine, featurettes on the sound and the score, audio diaries on the making of the film, and two existing films: Haunters of the Deep, which is a Children’s Film Foundation feature that influenced Jenkin, and The Duchy of Cornwall, a short documentary that surveys the land of the area. Also included is a booklet featuring a fine set of essays on the film, as well as a director’s statement from Jenkin.
Enys Men is a captivating picture that will haunt you long after it’s ended. Its creative approach to the narrative may make it feel inaccessible to some, but let it flow over you and soak it in. It deserves your time.
Enys Men is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and BFI Player.