Mark Jenkin’s intricately hand-made, black-and-white debut, Bait, was a gentrification drama laced with bone-dry wit that looked like an antique but delivered a seriously modern wake-up call to a class-ridden society.
The Cornishman’s equally eye-catching follow-up is cut from the same folklore-influenced cloth but serrates Bait’s homemade aesthetic into a jagged yet spectral horror. You don’t so much watch it as become slowly enveloped by its miasmic atmosphere.
Set in 1973, Enys Men (pronounced ‘mane’) takes its name from the eerie stone statue that stands lonely vigil on a small island a boat’s ride from the Cornish coast. It’s uninhabited but for one wildlife expert, known only as The Volunteer (British telly veteran Mary Woodvine), who diligently monitors a strange, alien-looking flower that grows on its clifftops.
A transistor radio is her only link to the mainland, and our only source of dialogue and information. Enys Men is an exposition-free zone, beyond snatched radio reports about an old seafaring tragedy that’s been memorialised by that stone monolith.
Eerie, post-synched sound design, fractured, Nicolas Roeg-like editing, and desaturated colours – Jenkin shot on grainy 16mm colour film stock and injects sudden bursts of red into the frame – amplify the building dread that seeps through the screen. A rocky, gorse-coated landscape that looks serenely beautiful in the first half of the film becomes hostile in the second.
You don’t so much watch it as become slowly enveloped by its miasmic atmosphere
Like Solaris, The Shining and Don’t Look Now – three loose touchpoints here – the ghostly goings-on are fuelled by an old trauma connected to that disaster at sea. Time folds on itself as the line between past and present disappears and Woodvine has ghostly encounters with old lovers, singing schoolgirls and mysterious robed maidens. By the end, your nerves will be shot and you won’t even know why.
Are its cultish mysteries for everyone? Undoubtedly not. But if there’s a place in your heart for dark, folky mind-benders that plug into the cosmic energy of remote, oceanic terrain (ie your favourite film would be a cross between The Wicker Man and The Lighthouse), you should take a trip across Jenkin’s freaky landscape asap.
In UK cinemas now