Flashback: An ominous landscape haunts a rocky Cornish outpost in celluloid oddity ‘Enys Men’

Nothing and everything comes to life in British filmmaker Mark Jenkin’s second feature film ‘Enys Men’, an art-horror oddity built around the haunted allure of a rugged island landscape, in this case an uninhabited rock off the coast of the beloved, director’s clawed peninsula Cornwall. Nature, nurtured into an eerie consciousness by a celluloid artisan, feels like a throwback to the folky freakouts of the “Wicker Man” era – confusing enough not to be for everyone, but for those who are willing are for a pot of their brew, plentifully transport and tingle.

Throughout his oeuvre (primarily experimental black-and-white shorts), Jenkins’ specialty has been a type of hand-finished cinema that evokes the grain, sonic scrape and atmosphere of something discovered in a disused attic and possibly of mysterious origin. (The Lost Time in the work of Canadian Guy Maddin is a transatlantic cousin.) He is best known for his BAFTA-winning 2019 feature film Bait, a masterful, odd, gruffly stylish drama about economic and family tensions in a contemporary world . Day Cornish fishing village, old ways employed to dramatize a modern day reality.

Enys Men is his quieter but no less evocative sequel, shot in chunky 16mm colour, set in a year of 1973 when it might have been shot, and closer to the mood of the psychological, location-heavy flow of a Nicolas Roeg -Dream Path by Roberto Rossellini. Our entry point is the daily ritual of a wildlife volunteer (“Bait” actress Mary Woodvine) whose springtime sojourn on this windswept island — once a tin mining district where historic tragedy struck — is to study a group of rare flowers that there grow a granite cliff overlooking a crashing shore. Back in the crumbling, moss-covered, generator-powered shack where she hangs her cherry-red windbreaker, she records her observations, which amount to rows and rows of the words “No Change.”

But in this scenario, change feels relative when it’s unclear whether or not our unnamed protagonist is alone, and what or who might be the subject of the transformation. There’s the occasional sighting of an adolescent girl (Flo Crowe) who may have sprung from the volunteer’s imagination, and later the appearance of a burly supply boat captain (Edward Rowe, also from “Bait”) who feels descended from the tough men who have long worked in an unforgiving geography. And with Jenkins’ arsenal of atmospheric in-between shots capturing the island’s topography like a watchful companion, it’s as if no heather-strewn expanse, or a field of quivering scrub, or a close-up of rocky terrain could be ignored as evidence of a smoldering presence.

Most intriguing and menacing, however, is the ancient stone monolith, which from certain distant angles looks like the carved figure of a nun, and which is perhaps more than just a landscape feature visible from the volunteer’s door. Sometimes you’d swear footage of the cabin is the POV of the rock, just one of the ways Jenkin — who’s his own cinematographer and editor — rewards the curious moviegoer with a foreboding tone when reaching out for a story isn’t enough.

“Enys Men” is not a film to be described as “then happened” because most of the time it feels like you’ve stumbled into a state of rippling turmoil that paints a portrait of a woman’s uneasy coexistence with her surroundings, history and present, death and rebirth. (Even between low-budget horrors of the past and present.) When we encounter sudden apparitions of bygone maidens or dead miners, or the sprout of flowers in an unusual place, these aren’t so much shock shocks as deliberate shivers in the weather — an island , divulging her sacred and pagan secrets like a mad organist.

As I watched “Enys Men,” my mind kept returning to the classic 1963 version of “The Haunting,” and the well-saturated notion from the elliptical horror of that ghost story that a house might want something from a visitor. Jenkin achieves the same effect here with his pastoral, off-kilter Cornish oddity, condensing his sublime, boxy compositions, sensory processing and carefully muted sound design into what can only be described as a rusty, rustic nightmare.

‘Enys Men’

Not rated
Duration: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Play: Begins March 31, Landmark Nuart, West Los Angeles; AMC Burbank 16; Lammle Glendale; Frida Cinema, Santa Ana

Source : www.latimes.com

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