“Do you like it here on your own?”

“I’m not on my own.”

Horror is so often a ‘loud’ genre. Bombastic scares, gory kills, and the shrill screech of violins leading up to another terrifying reveal – that’s what we’ve come to expect from contemporary horror. Enys Men, the latest from BAFTA-winning Cornish director Mark Jenkin, is the stark opposite of that. It’s a folk horror tale that is far more introspective – achingly solitary and very methodically directed.

Set in the early 1970s on the eponymous solitary island, Enys Men follows an unnamed wildlife observer (played with delicacy by Mary Woodvine) as she charts the growth of a mysterious green lichen. The first act closely and routinely follows her daily haunts: checking to see if it has grown on the flowers, measuring the ground temperature, and refilling her fuel supply in such a desolate location, itself haunted by a nautical tragedy the century before. But as the lichen grows in prominence – both within the plant life and elsewhere – our protagonist’s grasp on reality and time itself begins to slip.

Perhaps unfairly, it’s impossible not to compare Enys Men to Bait, Jenkin’s previous film that won him a BAFTA in 2020. This is a starkly different film; less focused on explicit narrativised storytelling and more on how editing and scenery can tell a story as separate elements. The first half an hour is purposefully obtuse and disorienting: we know nothing about Woodvine’s character or her purpose for being on this island, simply observing her without much concrete to sink our teeth into. While Bait was interested in telling a story rooted in its script and message, Enys Men is a lot more haunting and ethereal. This may endear those willing to buy into it, but could be frustrating to others.

That’s to say that you never truly get the answers you may be looking for, which makes it a far more introspective and involved viewing experience. As the main character’s link to this ravenous lichen gradually develops, her mental stability and reliability as a viewpoint character begin to wane. We see characters who may or may not actually be there, and learn that the seemingly routine life charted in the opening act may not be quite as structured as it seems.

One thing Enys Men has to be applauded for is its commitment to the raw, homemade brand of filmmaking that made Bait a true British masterpiece. Jenkin’s style is very traditional: shot entirely on hand-wound film, all dialogue recorded in post, and all editing done by Jenkin himself. Yet again it’s a staggering testament to his naturalistic skill as a director that all these pieces come together to form a mystery that never lets up, even when things are firmly rooted in the abstract. He is truly one of this country’s greatest working artists, and even those that don’t gel with this film’s hands-off brand of storytelling would be hard-pressed not to concur.

Most excitingly of all, Enys Men marks Jenkin’s first explicit foray into the horror genre. This isn’t a slasher or even the most outwardly scary horror film, but instead a lament on isolation, instability, and the painful memory of the past. The tension comes more from working out how these puzzle pieces slot together: how a menacing group of smirking underground miners align with our character’s isolation, and how these hallucinations all tie into one united string. It isn’t always the easiest to configure, but Enys Men demands your full attention and at least one rewatch.

Ultimately, Enys Men won’t be for everyone. Its passive brand of storytelling and long, dialogue-free scenes may turn some off, but if you stick with it it’s yet another endearing thrillride from a masterful director. It’s less immediately arresting as the instant classic Bait, but a slow-burner that forces you to answer its questions. With Enys Men, Mark Jenkin demonstrates yet another string on his near-endless bow of filmmaking prowess.


Enys Men is in cinemas now and released on BFI Blu-ray/DVD and BFI Player on 1 May.