Enys Men

Enys Men is packed with ambiguity. Sparse and spooky, it's been marketed as a "folk horror" movie, but while it touches on a few classic tropes – a splash of blood, some ghost-like entities, a sudden loud noise or two, a little body horror, a bit of the old "is this real or is the protagonist going insane?" stuff – it mostly plays out as a lost experimental film from another era. You might find it haunting. You might find it boring. You probably won't understand it.

The film's title is the name of a fictitious uninhabited island off the Cornwall coast: enys men is apparently Cornish for "stone island", although this isn't explained in the film itself. The story opens in late April 1973, as evidenced by the dates a nameless middle-aged woman (Mary Woodvine) – some sort of botanical researcher, we assume – jots down in her journal after her dull daily rounds: checking up a small cluster of white flowers and inexplicably dropping a stone into an old mine shaft. She also adds a single note each day: "No change." Of course something will eventually change, of that we can be sure, but Enys Men takes its time getting there.

Much of the movie features the woman silently going through her routine on this rugged isle. Only the briefest of news bits delivered over her staticky radio clues us in on the plot: May 1st – a date that is fast approaching – has a special meaning to this island's history, one with a supernatural element. But you might miss that crucial detail if you're checking your phone or gazing off into the middle distance.

Shot on grainy 16mm color stock with natural lighting and minimal camera movement, Enys Men feels like an old Werner Herzog film by way of the original Wicker Man – writer/director Mark Jenkin does such an expert job at capturing the era that there isn't a single anachronism to be found. I kind of liked the movie and all its enigmas, and there's no doubt that Jenkin is up to something, but I feel like you'd need a cheat sheet to get the most out of it.