Enys Men may be a folk horror movie, it’s not, but it has more in common with the art house and experimental movies of a bygone age.
As an experimental art house movie, Mark Jenkin’s Enys Men can be considered a success. There’s no linear narrative in the movie. Jenkin has chosen to scatter any sense of a story over the course of an hour and a half, nothing remotely interesting happens until well after the halfway point. It’s out of focus at times, there’s obvious post production scratches on the film, and the actors’ dialog have been redubbed. Jenkin employs some interesting camera and lighting effects to achieve the look of a movie made in the early 1970s, the movie takes place in 1973. Yes, Enys Men is very much an experimental film.
With less than a page of actual dialog the images on the screen have to do the majority of the heavy lifting, but without a connective thread these images are only images. There’s enough information to piece together some semblance of a story. A lone researcher who keeps track of changes in a patch of flowers starts to see visions of the island’s past and possible future. Why did these visions start isn’t a question that is asked or answered.
A linear story would have at least provided some reason as to the why, but as Jenkin has chosen to create an almost stream of conscience movie we’re left to guess. There’s enough random information to piece together that a boat sank decades before and everyone aboard drowned. If it wasn’t obvious enough a plaque hanging at the dock tells us the story of the accident. Where do the miners, the minister, and the women dressed as milkmaids fit into the picture. You’re left to your own devices to figure that one out.
If you’re looking for horror you’ll have to look somewhere else. As interesting as it is to see close ups of radio speakers and gas powered generators the promised “unnerving horror unlike any other” never materializes. There may very well be a horror movie somewhere in Enys Men. If there is, it’s difficult to find. Singing milkmaids, a moving rock, and the researcher staring into the camera is a far cry from horror. Even the flashbacks of the researcher falling through a glass ceiling don’t prove frightening as the only connection to the present is the scar left behind that starts to grow the same lichen as seen on the researcher’s flowers. Enys Men is a movie that wants its horror cake and eat it too.
Horror movies like Enys Men typically have a very narrow audience. There will be those that will find some of what goes into Enys Men frightening or at least interesting. Then there are those people who will convince themselves that it’s great horror knowing full well that it isn’t. For most, Enys Men is better left to sink to the bottom of the ocean and have kids in white dresses sing about it. Because you can’t have a folk horror movie without someone wearing white. Isn’t that right, Midsommer?