• Jan 10,2023
  • In Review
  • By Abundant Art

Film Review: ENYS MEN-Surreal Nature as Aesthetic Thriller

If you like slow-paced and aesthetically shot films with unusual narratives, and enjoy a ‘folk horror’, then this is the film for you. Directed by Mark Jenkin, ENYS MEN was shot on 16mm and stars Mary Woodvine, a wildlife volunteer, who comes face to face with a bizarre world unleashed through her interactions with a rare flower.

Within the opening scenes we gather the little context provided for the whole film – we are in the year 1973 on an abandoned island off the Cornish coast, whose mysterious past is alluded to. It is only as the film continues, with every new sequence of strange events, characters that appear and disappear, and objects that take on personalities, that the film’s thriller overtone takes its full form.

What is most striking about the film is its sensitivity towards Cornish folk culture. Local traditions in myth and ritual underscore the film’s ability to allude to the region’s culture and history. Human dialogue is often absent and it is replaced by the sounds of nature, ambient music, and long moments of silence, which together raise the auditory script of the film to a story-telling role, on par with the visual. Beautifully interwoven, the two scripts, auditory and visual, provide an engaging sensory experience, that is yet rooted in their individual simplicity. Harsh mechanical sounds, radio static, the glitches of light inherent to the 16mm medium, or visually jarring combinations such as a bright plastic jacket against a hillside, are cut and pasted, mixed and matched, to add to feelings of unease throughout the film.

What makes ENYS MEN an interesting watch is its attention to carefully crafted sensory moments by channelling an authentic cinematographic simplicity in nuanced manners. Mary Woodvine is in fact an actress based in West Cornwall; this is not necessarily obvious from the film, but it does serve to highlight this point. If one is expecting to be thrilled by the film they might be disappointed – I can’t stress enough that it is a very slow film. Instead, the film’s play on horror and the surreal encourage reflections about the power of nature and dissolve our fallacy of human dominance. “What if the landscape was not only alive, but sentient?” – Mark Jenkin (2022).

Image credit-Steve Tanner

Tickets: https://www.enysmen.co.uk/. ENYS MEN is in cinemas UK-wide from 13 January 2023.

The Cinematic DNA of ENYS MEN season [curated by director Mark Jenkin] runs at BFI Southbank until 31 January with selected films and Jenkin’s shorts collection on BFI Player. The ENYS MEN Original Score by Mark Jenkin is out now digitally via Invada Records and released on vinyl on 24 February.

Review by Michela Giachino

Since studying History of Art at The University of Oxford Michela has continued to pursue her interests in art and culture. She particularly enjoys considering how contemporary and historical art forms are presented to the wider public through exhibitions and viewings at art institutions. Michela’s favourite mediums include photography, film, painting and drawing, and she is always excited to learn about new art.

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