66th London BFI Film Festival: Enys Men | 25YL

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Unfortunately one of the festival’s most disappointing films, Mark Jenkin’s sequel to the magnificent Bait should have had it all. A folksy body horror from the makers of one of the most thrilling British films in recent memory is an easy sell, but sadly, Enys Men was a film which I understood little and appreciated even less. Deprived of the sharp social commentary, clever satire and rich characterization of Bait, Enys Men foregrounds the styling of the previous film and breaks with linear logical storytelling, unfolding in an abstract series of repetitive dreamlike sequences. It shouldn’t have been fatal and some tastes might heat up Enys Menbut it was the only screening so far where almost everyone was out of their seats by the time the credits started rolling, and not just became women who talk was about to start next.

Enys Men does not refer to any man, but to the island on which the film takes place. In a storyline that feels like a nightmarish funhouse mirror version of Geographies of lonelinessthe film follows a middle-aged woman (played by Bait‘s Mary Woodvine) as she lives alone (or maybe not) on the island documenting the growth of a singular wildflower growing on the nearby cliffs. Over time, she begins to develop what appears to be a symbiotic relationship with the flower, her past and present begin to fade, and the tragedy of her past becomes clearer.

Unfortunately, the obscure action is so repetitive (and on purpose, make no mistake about it) that it becomes a trying watch. The film’s attempts at outright horror feel forced and out of place, and it doesn’t offer much psychological complexity to draw the viewer in. Its fire burns slowly and in the end, consumes very little without giving off much heat. The Brechtian devices that served Bait so well – shooting in 16mm, post-syncing all dialogue and sound effects, extensive use of close-up – are still striking and intriguing, but once you sit down and take notice, it doesn’t matter much -something to say. The themes of grief and time, how some things are fleeting while others last for centuries, are evocative, but the images presented by Enys Men do not merge into a very inspiring image. It’s too cryptic to work as simple narrative and a bit too pedestrian to work as effective surrealism.

I’ll say this for the movie, the mind does interesting things when it’s free and left to wander on its own. For me it was a movie about grief and how it never really goes away, it stays and becomes a part of us, changing us at the same time. After we are gone, our grief will outlive us, for this absence is all we will be. Others might take very different things from the film, about humanity’s relationship to nature, the evolving nature of identity and community, or the personal relationship to faith and religion. movies like Enys Men are designed to free the mind and let the subconscious wander. In my book Enys Men did that. However, my mind would have appreciated a more fertile and nutritious pasture. As for the 2022 UK abstract folk horrors ending with the letters “MEN”, I’ll stick to Men myself.

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