Review: “Enys men”
Script and direction: Mark Jenkin
In the roles. Mary Woodvine, Edward Rowe, Flo Crowe, etc. Duration: 1 hour, 36 minutes (15 years). Language English. Cinema premiere 5/19.
Time is a thread you weave together with others. Loneliness dissolves it into endless little threads that lose their direction and tangle until today and yesterday, past and present, are indistinguishable.
“The volunteer” – any other name does not get the main character – spends the spring alone on a deserted island in the Celtic Sea off Cornwall where she monitors some rare wild flowers, measures temperature notes changes in a log book that soon becomes as menacingly monotonous as Jack Nicholson’s novel in “The Shining”.
Every day she walks the same road, past an upturned rock, which was once perhaps a place of worship, past a deep shaft, which was once a mine. She lives in a sparsely decorated, ivy-overgrown island guardhouse, which would have been romantic if director Mark Jenkins’ (“Bait”) attraction to bygone times and age-old film technology had anything to do with romance.
Is a lonely? asks a voice over the shortwave radio, who is standing and cracking fatally to himself already in the opening shot. The first time she doesn’t answer. Later that she is not alone. Because by then she has been joined by ghosts – priests, miners and children from the island, but also from her own past. In the end, there are too many ghosts to be scary. Maybe too many to be any really meaningful story as well. But Jenkin has something else to offer.
His previous film, “Bait” (2019), about a fisherman without a boat trying to survive the gentrification and tourism of the Cornish coast, was shot on what appeared to be weathered 16mm film with an old Bolex camera. Depicting a now through a then gave an elevation to the theme that made the film a critical success.
Enys men (“Stone Island” in Cornish) also depicts a now through a then, but here the photo is both faded and colorful like an old seventies film found in a cupboard. Mary Woodwine’s eyes glow a fairy-tale blue, the sea shifts in Mediterranean turquoise and the red raincoat can only be an homage to Nicolas Roeg’s “The Voice from the Other Side” from 1973.
Even those who are hypersensitive to hipster-like retro romanticism can be impressed by how Jenkin manages to use old techniques, images and moods without becoming nostalgic or superficial. There is a desperation in his digging into the past, a sense that he is searching for some irreplaceable insight that is being swept away and is constantly just out of reach.
The inner drive is felt in the unique cutouts. For an hour and a half, The Volunteer goes back and forth between the flowers and the house, the same path with infinitesimal variations in cuts and clips that vibrate with something vaguely terrifying and peculiar despite the boredom.
The poster image, which suggests some kind of folk horror in the style of “Midsummer”, is a bit of false marketing. There is never any horror despite the ghosts and escalating insanity. Because it requires the protagonist to actively resist what is happening. The volunteer lets the change roll over her.
“Enys men” certainly says something vague about how historical wounds are related to one’s own wounds and wounds in a threatened nature, but for that reason is not a thought-provoking depiction of social development, like “Bait”. Just a slow, pretentious but sensitive and charged portrayal of the relationship between lone man and nature, where no one is demonized even though things really aren’t going well for either of them. Some will ask what the point is. Others will experience the boredom, emptiness, beauty, terror, mania and magic that you only experience in total solitude and that is rarely portrayed so accurately on film.
See more. Three films with horror mixed with mystery and a retro feel: “The witch” (2015), “The lighthouse” (2019), “A field in England” (2013).
Mark Jenkin: “There is something rotten in the British underground”
Read more film- och television reviews in DN and other texts by Kerstin Gezelius
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