Cornish director Mark Jenkin’s new film Enys Men is a chilling, endlessly mysterious horror tale beautifully shot on grainy 16mm film. Triumphantly delivering on the promise of his extraordinary debut Bait, Jenkin’s sophomore feature is a fascinatingly abstract, almost dialogue-free throwback to the British folk horror films of the 70s – steeped in cine-literacy yet bracingly singular in its own right.
Here, Jenkin provides us with an extensive list of folk horror, television oddities, eerie children's movies and experimental shorts.
“I’d rather people feel a film before understanding it.” - Robert Bresson
When considering the DNA of Enys Men, it’s maybe predictable that many of the films that made it onto the following list are drawn from the 70s – the decade in which the film is grounded. Inevitably, when thinking of this era in Britain, a number of entries on the list are not in fact films at all, but highly innovative, haunting, weird or eerie, productions made for the small screen. Some of them are free-form, others experimental or oblique, yet all are uncompromisingly authored.
Some of my choices are linked to Enys Men through form, others by content; but in most cases, hopefully by a bit of both. After all, the greatest films mesh the two in a way that makes it hard to tell where one starts and the other finishes.
There are films in this list that do not share similarities with Enys Men in either form or content, but are examples of work made by people who were, and are, willing to take risks, to experiment, maybe even to fail in the name of expanding the language of this youthful art form. For that reason alone, they remain a huge inspiration to me.
Fylm bys vyken!
- Mark Jenkin
‘Walkabout’ (1971), dir. by Nicolas Roeg
When it comes to Nic Roeg’s influence upon my own work, there are probably more obvious choices: the red coat of Don’t Look Now, the fractured identities of Performance, the time slip of The Man Who Fell to Earth. However, this is where it all started for me. Walkabout is a visceral, sensual and overwhelming experience that arrived at a formative time.
‘Oss Oss Wee Oss’ (1953), dir. by Alan Lomax
I grew up over the water from Padstow and the sounds of the drums coming across the estuary on Mayday morning would terrify and entice me in equal measure. There is nothing quite like Padstow on May Day and this specific celebration of the coming of spring belongs to Padstownians everywhere. This is playful, inventive, evocative and – most importantly - respectful filmmaking.
‘The Stone Tape’ (BBC, 1972), dir. by Peter Sasdy
This pick is all about Nigel Kneale’s script (which gave birth to the endlessly intriguing stone tape theory) and how it’s combined with the unmistakable work of Desmond Briscoe and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Both were huge influences on me while making Enys Men. Visually speaking, it is typical of a TV play and not the sort of thing I tend to get excited by. But the dramatic denouement is brilliantly constructed and truly unnerving.
‘Journey to Avebury’ (1973), dir. by Derek Jarman
This short is such an obvious choice I almost didn’t include it. But ever since I stumbled across The Garden, late one night on Channel 4, Jarman has been in the DNA of everything I do. So he had to be in this selection somewhere. Simple, striking and melancholic, the fact that the aesthetic of the film was a mistake makes it even more precious.
‘Penda’s Fen’ (BBC, 1974), dir. by Alan Clarke
There had to be an Alan Clarke film in this list. Although it’s a real outlier in terms of his body of work, this TV film was a touchstone when I was developing Enys Men. I’d be lying if I said I fully knew what the film means. But like Robert Bresson’s work, I prioritise feeling over understanding. Besides, even Clarke claimed to not really know what it was about.
‘A Warning to the Curious’ (BBC, 1972), dir. by Lawrence Gordon Clark
When I think of The Ghost Stories for Christmas series, I think of Lawrence Gordon Clark more than M.R. James. But of all the James adaptations, this is my favourite – a highly atmospheric piece of visual storytelling with a chilling climax. I find the simplicity of the filmmaking invigorating. No doubt born of limitation, this is cinema by way of TV.
‘Haunters of the Deep’ (1984), dir. by Andrew Bogle
One of the later Children’s Film Foundation adventures, I must have seen this around the time it came out. Enys Men shares many of the same West Cornwall locations. Having recently re-watched it, I realise I may have borrowed some shots for my film. It obviously made a mark at an impressionable age.
‘The Living and the Dead’, episode 2 (BBC, 2016), dir. by Alice Troughton
I came across this ghostly series by chance on BBC iPlayer. It’s so thoughtfully put together, with the cinematography and colour grading emulating the old two-strip process. This episode shares a storyline with Haunters of the Deep, drawing attention to the danger, exploitation and cruelty of the mining industry, especially with regard to child labour. It’s a real shame there was never a second series.
‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles’ (1975), dir. by Chantal Akerman
It took a reference to Jeanne Dielman in an Enys Men review to make me consider the impact of this film upon my own work. The confrontational camera, the sparse dialogue, the performances devoid of grand gesture or faux emotion are all there, but the gradual subversion of a strict routine is the obvious starting point when it comes to its influence.
‘Symptoms’ (1974), dir. by José Ramón Larraz
Despite being full of visual clichés and horror tropes, this film feels entirely unique; it must be down to the command Larraz has over the medium, crafting a haunting and unnerving descent into madness. It’s a film that, at times, clearly signals where it might be going, but proves all the more shocking for actually going there. The production design is stunning and the performances properly unnerving.
‘Stigma’ (BBC, 1977), dir. by Lawrence Gordon Clark
My favourite of the highly influential Ghost Stories for Christmas series mentioned earlier. Although it had a contemporary setting, it now feels almost as period as the M.R. James adaptations. I love the creeping sense of hopelessness that Clark creates, albeit through the slenderest of means. And the ending is devastating. There are several references to this film in Enys Men.
‘Long Weekend’ (1978), dir. by Colin Eggleston
The links to my film are pretty clear here: the insects, the birds, the rocks, the sea, the foreboding threat inherent in the natural world. Probably the closest we get to an ecosophical film in this list, Long Weekend nevertheless has just as much in common with Bait as it does Enys Men. I first saw this film 20 years ago and the message was clear and stayed with me: Respect the locals!
‘Between the Tides’ (1959), dir. by Ralph Keene
A good excuse to draw attention to my favourite British Transport Films release – an invitation to slow down and take a close look at the world just above and just below the surface. This Oscar-nominated short is a lovely example of giving significance to the seemingly insignificant simply by pointing a camera at it. If you look closely, you may catch a glimpse of the spectre of Enys Men, looming in the background.
‘Two Years at Sea’ (2011), dir. by Ben Rivers
It’s the aesthetic, the grain, the flicker, the texture that draws me in. But it’s the complete lack of back story that ensures I keep returning to this enigmatic masterpiece. What’s not to love about a Bolex-shot, 16mm black and white, hand-processed genre-bending portrait of personal contentment?
‘A Portrait of Ga’ (1952), dir. by Margaret Tait
The purest film included in this collection. A camera, a voice, some music. A beautiful and apparently simple portrait of a loved one, but also a love letter to the medium of film itself; a past-tense art form that shows us ghosts and freezes time. Truly transcendental filmmaking.
‘Daguerréotypes’ (1975), dir. by Agnès Varda
Not an obvious choice when looking for horror influence. As with most films, associations are made through the cutting. But Daguerréotypes is on another level. Cuts on movement, objects, colour and theme all elevate this film, which in anyone else’s hands could have been simple objective verity. This says so much, very quietly, and always reminds me that films are made in the cutting room.
‘World of Glory (1991)’, dir. by Roy Andersson
Maybe the most powerful horror film in this list, which communicates the crippling effects of guilt, albeit through Andersson’s austere style. Opening with a scene of unimaginable horror, this is a meticulously staged mini masterpiece. For me, it’s the sound – what we hear emanating from the background or the periphery of the frame, or off-screen altogether, that makes this such an unforgettable experience.
‘Lost Highway’ (1997), dir. by David Lynch
I came to this one late, as I’d always been led to believe that it was one of David Lynch’s lesser works. Maybe it was the lack of expectation, but when I did finally see it, the film completely bowled me over. It’s predictably uncompromising, gloriously evoking the nightmare state, featuring that phone call, perhaps Lynch’s most unnerving sequence, and with a final shot that maybe holds the key to the entire mystery of the narrative.
‘Jaunt’ (1995), dir. by Andrew Kötting
Andrew is a constant influence and inspiration. This film stands for all his work and is a distillation of everything I love about it; the exploitation of the creative potential of sound, the playful approach to reality and, above all, the joy and mischievousness that runs through all his films. I’m very proud to have been labelled a fellow “shoddyist” by the man himself.
‘Requiem for a Village’ (1975), dir. by David Gladwell
It may be nearly half a century old, but this melancholic portrait of loss seems more relevant than ever. I was intrigued by this film when I heard about the dead rising from their graves sequence, but the film is so much more than this undoubtedly brilliant sequence. At times surreal and abstract, while in other moments pure documentary, this is a quietly angry piece of filmmaking.
‘The Signalman’ (BBC, 1976), dir. by Lawrence Gordon Clark
Maybe the most well-known of The Ghost Stories for Christmas series and the one I revisit the most due to my fascination with time-slips and premonitions. Presented as a riddle cloaked in ambiguity and the formal manners of the time, once the smoke finally clears, and like all good stories, it’s quite a simple narrative and ultimately all about Clark creating an unsettling atmosphere.
‘Berberian Sound Studio’ (2012), dir. by Peter Strikland
This is a great example of an untrustworthy film – a feeling that you’re in unsafe hands and not everything will be made clear by the end, meaning that the film will continue to play long after the credits have rolled. For me there is also a real thrill in watching foley being recorded directly to loops of ¼ inch tape – a process that I employed when creating the sound for Enys Men and one of my favourite aspects of filmmaking.
‘Wind’ (1999), dir. by Bill Scott
When I first moved home from London 20 years ago, I went to a short film screening in a village hall. That night I realised I could make films in Cornwall – that there were people already doing it and, most excitingly, the work was distinct. There was a National Cinema! This film screened on that rainy winter night and represents all that was happening at that exciting, and hugely influential time, in Cornish film history.
Enys Men is in UK cinemas now and will be released on Blu-ray/DVD and on BFI Player on 1 May.