Another day, another set of the same chores for ‘The Volunteer’ (Mary Woodvine). The Volunteer is all we will ever know her as. Basically the same tedious tasks – checking the status of some flowers, dropping a rock down a big hole and listening for a splash, and taking the temperature – over and over. A simple log to record the temperature and same observation “No Change” – rinse and repeat the next day. Winding down with some tea, the radio, and reading a survival guide. It’s enough to make anyone crazy, living it or watching it.
Then some things begin to change. Did that giant rock actually move? Who are these other people that quickly flash by? This younger woman in the house that I sometimes talk to – is she real? What is happening to the scar on my stomach? As The Volunteer continues on in isolation, her mental state fluctuates. It is difficult to discern what is actually happening and what is in the mind.
Mark Jenkin both wrote and directed Enys Men. Directing his own scripts is commonplace for Jenkin. This is the type of film that easily divides an audience as well as one that may be loved more by critics. There are stylistic elements that can certainly be appreciated. Jenkin successfully creates a vintage feel throughout the film. Taking place in 1973, not only does Jenkin establish the atmosphere on set, but captures the essence of the era with his filming technique. The film is shot to look more like found footage from the time. Not the shaky handheld style featured in The Blair Witch Project but a film that was shot in the 1970s. This adds a unique and memorable element to Enys Men. The film has a very limited cast and only one setting. Woodvine is able to thrive in these circumstances and turns in a strong performance.
The main issue with the film is what actually happens on screen with what Jenkin leads the audience to believe could happen. The first portion follows The Volunteer through her daily monotony. Subtle foreshadowing of an ominous presence is littered throughout. From her bright red jacket juxtaposed against the rest of her surroundings to her daily reading being a Blueprint for Survival, there are signs everywhere. As The Volunteer’s mental state devolves, questions of what is real or not engross the film. Yet there are no true scares. There is a creepy aura around the film, but nothing truly scary. The artistic nature of Enys Men may be a draw to some, but the lack of any action will be a detriment to more. All things considered, Enys Men simply doesn’t not have enough that happens to make it worth a watch.
Enys Men is in select theaters now.