How do you follow something as unique as Bait? Writer, director and editor Mark Jenkin’s 16mm black-and-white curio about Edward Rowe’s boatless Cornish fisherman waging war on gentrification arrived in 2019 to rapturous reviews, worldwide festival appreciation and BAFTA glory. It can count Mark Kermode and Quentin Tarantino among its fanbase – in fact, after winning a BAFTA for Bait, Jenkin ran into QT at the ceremony. "He said, ‘You’re the Bait guy!’” Jenkin marvels to Empire. “He said, ‘I was watching the clip and thought, “What is this? Some sort of Italian neo-realist thing I’ve never heard of ?”’. But while all that approval was welcome, it did mean the pressure was on when Enys Men started to come together…
“With this one, everyone knew that the stakes were higher,” says Mary Woodvine, who was in Bait, and has followed Jenkin to the new project. “On the set, there was no difference. But I think everybody’s internal dialogue was, ‘Fuck, this better be good.’ This was the difficult second album.” It’s still in grainy 16mm monochrome, and still set around the Cornish coast, but Enys Men’s vibe is more that of a 1970s folk horror. Woodvine plays an isolated wildlife volunteer who starts experiencing weirdness around a Bronze-Age standing stone. Jenkin has “explained” to us previously that it’s about “time moving backwards as well as forwards”. Trippy.
Despite the step-up in scale for this second feature, it’s fairly safe to say that, while he’s enjoyed the critical and media attention of the last few years, his areas of interest are unlikely to lead him to Hollywood quite yet. “I’m the same as anybody,” he laughs. “I get attracted to showbiz. I love the glamour of it. But I know enough to think that if I somehow got offered a Marvel film… I think I’d be one of those directors who wasn’t there by the end. Maybe I’d get the pay cheque, and we could get our roof done, but a safe pair of hands would come in and just reshoot the absolute nightmare that I’d created.” A Mark Jenkin-created "nightmare" set in the MCU? Would watch!
Read Empire's full feature on Enys Men – an intentional nightmare – in the new Review Of The Year issue, on sale tomorrow, or available to pre-order here. Enys Men is in cinemas from 13 January 2023.