I will preface this review with one of my more terrifying ideas regarding ghosts and the paranormal:
What if, instead of a post-corporeal spirit or break in the dimensional fabric, the phenomenon were simply the recycled energy of life repeating the patterns of that existence—just with enough consciousness remaining in the entity to be aware of this torturous, repetitive existence?
A wild thought, to be sure, but interesting in context of Mark Jenkin’s new film, Enys Men (pronounced “ennis main” and Cornish for “Stone Island”). This entry in the folk horror genre—albeit, on the very experimental, left-handed side of the spectrum—is about repetition. In fact, for the first half hour, you’re watching a woman (Mary Woodvine) repeat her daily activities over and over again.
The character, only known as The Volunteer, resides on Enys Men alone, performing tasks and recording observations. Each afternoon, once she’s finished, she records in her journal “No Change,” before turning on her generator for electricity, having tea, and then reading before bed. Rinse and repeat.
Slowly and cryptically, the film introduces new, ethereal-like characters that pop in and out, such as a young woman and a fisherman. Is the young woman her dead daughter? Is it her younger self? Is the fisherman her dead husband? Is The Volunteer dead herself? Or is she just a woman living on the edge of existence using daily rituals to compensate for grief? Does any of this matter?
If you can’t already tell from the above, Enys Men ain’t for everyone. The narrative is deliberate, repetitive, nonlinear, and outside of a few scenes, virtually dialogue-free. Past inhabits the present and vice versa. Not one fact is tactile or clear.
However, I couldn’t help but be drawn into the lush and haunting environment brought to life by the 16mm film. As a 70s period piece, it feels of that moment, but also ancient. Primordial. In this world, Man coexists with the Old Soul outside of Time. While I would have preferred an ending with a stronger punch, I was left feeling richer by the totality of the experience.
Enys Men will hit select theaters starting March 31, 2023.