Enys Men Review: Experimental Horror Effectively Aims To Disconcert And Polarize

We are currently living through an exciting time in the horror genre. It seems that as long as you've got a good enough team on your hands, even the lowest-budget and experimental of movies can secure nationwide theatrical releases. The unexpected success of "Skinamarink" earlier this year proved as such, and it's likely that you will hear Kyle Edward Ball's debut talked about alongside distributor Neon and director Mark Jenkin's new release, "Enys Men." This won't exactly be for undeserved reasons — both movies are period pieces with minimal dialogue, eerie cinematography, and an overarching feeling of wrongness embedded in their very cores.

However, what makes "Enys Men" different from its analog contemporary lies in how far more abstract its message is. In 1973, a woman (Mary Woodvine) is tasked with monitoring the natural surroundings of an island with a devastating history. However, when lichen begins to grow on the island's flowers, it sends her on a psychological journey that explores the long-lasting impact of tragedy.

At least, that's as much as I could gather. Jenkin provides no easy answers in his film, resulting in a somewhat frustrating feeling of dissatisfaction. However, it is clear that this was exactly the intention of "Enys Men," a visual treatise on how not everything in life needs closure.

Be just and fear not

Perhaps the most captivating aspect of "Enys Men" is its visual aesthetic. Shot entirely on 16MM, it looks and feels like a standard British folk horror of the time period instead of a hollow mimic. Woodvine's performance is also fantastically fitting, being able to convey so many unspoken emotions with her eyes. The minimalist setting also ensures that no detail is left unaccounted for or unexplored in its deeper message. Even in its slower moments (of which there are many), these details and how they all manage to converge so effectively will keep viewers hooked, perhaps fearing for what comes next.

That is, if the viewer is attuned to experimental horror films more concerned with broad topics than specific storylines. Much like "Skinamarink" polarized audiences only familiar with its online virality, "Enys Men" and its purposeful vagueness will undoubtedly not be for everyone. The audience I saw it with murmured in confusion once the credits began to roll, and even for my interest in this specific type of film, there were moments of dull repetition that threatened to take me out of the experience. That being said, this is not inherently a critique, as the film challenges viewers to take in every detail — if they don't, they'll know even less than they already do. The fact that it even exists, then, feels like a miracle in a theatrical landscape dominated by formulaic blockbusters.

A unique take on trauma horror

However, what truly makes "Enys Men" stand out in the horror genre is its metaphorical depiction of trauma. Sure, trauma has been a major focal point of horror over the past few years, ranging from indie debuts like "Hereditary" to blockbusters like the "Halloween" sequel trilogy. "Enys Men" feels so fresh and unique because, despite its minimal cast, its impact is so much more than just Woodvine's island caretaker. Rather than centering on her individual trauma, she is used as the vessel of an entire community's intergenerational struggles. This is a refreshing take on a horror trope that has quickly lost its allure, and thanks to its visual presentation, it's a take that sticks with you.

It's hard to say whether or not "Enys Men" is worth recommending, as it was made for a very specific audience. That being said, it knows exactly what audience it wants to connect with, and its limited theatrical release feels a bit like a miracle. This visually and metaphorically commanding film, crafted with precision by Jenkin, urges viewers to look for its answers deep within itself instead of simply giving them away. There is a chance that our interpretation and your interpretation will be different, and that's okay – it was made to be that way. This alone is worth celebrating and makes seeing it at least worth a shot. Much like "Skinamarink," if you allow "Enys Men" into your soul, you will get so much more from it than just surreal images.

/Film rating: 7 out of 10