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Movie Reviews

Enys Men ★★★★★



Director: Mark Jenkin

Cast: Mary Woodvine, Edward Rowe, Flo Crow, John Woodvine

Release Date: January 13, 2023 (UK)

When Mark Jenkins’ Bait first dropped in 2019, his DIY treatment of the moving image, his droning, cacophonous score and Bait’s post-dubbing formal sensibilities hypnotised audiences, gifting spectators with an almost mythical audio-visual spectacle. A confrontational tale of the devastating effects of gentrification in a Cornish village, Bait anchored Jenkins into the canon of sacred modern craftsmen. Enys Men only elevates Jenkin further as a master craftsman of the modern age.

Set on an unknown, unearthly land off the coast of Cornwall, Mary Woodvine plays an unnamed volunteer botanist who is researching the state of some wildflowers that lay their roots in the overhang of a cliff face. These wildflowers, like Enys Men’s decaying artifice of a visual experience, glimmer through the hand-cranked 16mm celluloid as an untouched, uncorrupted fossil. Woodvine’s systematic daily rituals occur wordlessly, presented in the same vein as Chantal Akerman’s, Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles and the works of Derek Jarman. The everyday formalities of Woodvine’s daily existence are far more painful than they initially may seem. Whether it be the oozing sun-drunk 16mm photography of a diving bird of prey hitting the roof of the sea, a rock being repeatedly dropped into the abyss of a mining shaft or a match-cut of the setting sun into a cesarean scar, Jenkins distorts the equilibrium of both balance and time. Scattered over the 96-minute runtime is this sense of losing all conscious perception of temporal space and time.

Woodvine, albeit confused by the horrors presented to her, ultimately carries this omniscient understanding of the ghosts around her. This idea of us needing our ghosts as much as they need us hits both on a solitary, existential level and develops Jenkins’ universal understanding narration of the philosophy of death. Enys Men delves into the philosophical nature of death through its personal, metaphysical quality. Jenkins ends up slowly swallowing his spectators whole as the space that Woodvine lives in becomes increasingly distorted. Her daily rituals become progressively contorted as the flower she has been researching appears to have some form of lichen on it, leaning into a particularly disquieting array of chaotic sequences. Woodvine’s routine becomes her coping mechanism, her horror vacui, in her need to fill space.

As Woodvine’s solitary existence becomes disorientated, Jenkins’ form becomes frenzied. Moreover, the monolith that stands over her cottage, previously a statue to commemorate the dead, is like something torn out of Ben Wheatley’s psychedelic horror In the Earth. It appears like an otherworldly spectral presence that causes the island’s relationship with Woodvine to become increasingly agitated, whilst Woodvine’s relationship with the island profoundly affects her. Yet, even in his most audio-visually extended sequences, Jenkins’s work is supremely well crafted, never losing sight of what he is trying to say—combining both enrapturing glacial photography with a devastating, contrapuntal sound design through to its cleansing finale. Fundamentally, despite its non-linear narrative, Jenkin delivers his spectators with a tale of loneliness, obsession, and fragility. As the natural world and Woodvine merge, revelations present what was hiding in plain sight all along.

Whether for the viewer it is a story of purgatory through the prism of the female experience, a rite of passage through space and time, or simply a sensory audio-visual experience, well, there is quite honestly everything to be found in Enys Men.

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