“I’m not on my own.”The Volunteer
Mark Jenkin’s experimental Cornish horror Enys Men (literally “stone island”) is likely to thrill and frustrate equal numbers of viewers. Its retro filmmaking is a fascinating throwback, Jenkin shooting on 16mm film using a hand-cranked camera, with post-synchronised sound. The result is heavy grain with boldly saturated colours, close-up shots of individual objects, and intrusive sounds like a clattering generator and overbearing radio static contrasting the natural stillness of the island. Mary Woodvine is the only actor in the majority of shots her bright red anorak standing out against the island’s green and brown hues even in long shots. There are thematic similarities with Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse — waiting on an isolated island for a boat, whilst questions arise about the reliability of what we see and a character’s sanity, though there is less a sense of claustrophobia on the open island. However, Jenkin is deliberately obtuse in his storytelling, providing little direct information beyond the fact that Woodvine’s volunteer is on the island to observe the growth of a flower. Her repetitive days provide the film’s baseline (early on the camera sits with her while a kettle boils) with viewers free to draw their own inferences from an emerging theme of grief. One’s willingness to accept the role of interpreter and simply absorb Enys Men’s ominous — though never truly scary — atmosphere will likely dictate enjoyment as Jenkin makes no concessions to accessibility. Although it is never made clear precisely to what extent we are seeing memories or apparitions, the titular standing stone seems to gaze back impassively throughout the film, as if absorbing the experiences of all those who lived and live in its vicinity over the ages.