Behind the isolation and terror at the heart of Mark Jenkin’s second feature film Enys Men is a clever act of deception. The film, the title of which is Cornish for “Stone Island,” follows a volunteer ecologist living on a small piece of land, studying the growth of a unique set of flowers. As she goes about her lonely daily routine of taking measurements and observing the world, her mental state begins to fray; she experiences disturbing, reality-blurring visions of violence and ghostly workers inhabiting a long-abandoned mining operation. While the main character’s existence appears solitary, in actuality, there’s a bustling, noisy farm right next to her home. The island itself is a work of fiction, its craggy landscapes composed of shots of mainland Cornwall.
This cinematic illusion is a testament to Jenkin’s artistic approach: He looks at the world and digs out the horror lurking amid everyday scenery. This penetrating disquiet is echoed in the film’s score, composed by Jenkin himself, which collects dreary ambient pieces, placid field recordings, and clipped radio static that float between beauty and dread. As the cues billow and evolve, it can be hard to tell what they’re meant to evoke, which only makes them more unsettling.
The record’s 10-and-a-half minute opener “Enys, Pt. 1” illustrates this uneasy duality. It’s built around a droning synth melody, which twists softly and slowly as if being nudged by a breeze; with each fuzzy repetition, it starts to feel a little darker, a little more strange. Its flirtations with silence evoke both serenity and sorrow in a way that recalls William Basinski’s thoughtful tape work or Fennesz’s texturally rich ambiance. Much of the score is composed of these richly suggestive and emotionally opaque pieces. “Goelann,” for example, is a short cue that weaves together woodwind-like electronics with the gentle roiling of the wind and sea. It’s wispy and elusive, and then it’s over, which only adds to its mystery.
The score ventures to more explicitly foreboding places, like on the grayscale loop of “Hunros, Pt. 1.” Like a sonar blip warped on old tape, the piece rumbles and whirrs until a distant threat comes into view, culminating in a distress call over a crackly radio on the following track. “Knoukya Knoukya” evokes similar fear through seasick bass drones and clipped conversation, before building to a flurry of noise. These are momentary diversions, but they’re enough to make listening to the record and watching the film a tense experience.
Enys Men could be described as a horror film, but it’s more slippery than what the label traditionally evokes. It’s like a daydream, languidly tracing scenes and images with a meditative logic—and sometimes taking you to a darker place than imagined. The music is built to accompany that kind of journey, both in the film and outside of it: Each delicate synth line guides listeners into hypnotic reverie, then each burst of static snaps them violently back to earth, leaving them on terra firma for a moment until a vision begins anew.
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