Eden Lake (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
James Watkins’ “Eden Lake” is the kind of movie that inspires you to take a punching bag and wrestle it to the ground until you can punch and kick it no longer. It ends in a way that leaves viewers hanging—right in the middle of the climax; it is brutal, grim, without mercy. The risk pays off; even though the story is complete, a part of us wishes for the film to keep going for the sake of having a proper closure. This is no run-of-the-mill horror-thriller.
It begins just like any other romantic weekend gateway in the quarry: beautiful, isolated, peaceful. It is so quiet, bugs can be heard socializing. Until it isn’t. Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender) cross paths with juvenile delinquents led by Brett (Jack O’Connell—who gives a wild and magnetic performance), quite possibly a future death row inmate: irascible, extremely violent, and immoral. Small annoyances—like the kids maximizing the volume of their stereo when they very well know that it is a nuisance to the couple relaxing from several yards away—build up to a desperate fight for survival in middle of the woods.
Notice that in between interactions between adults and teenagers, there are enough moments of pause for us viewers to consider what we might do if we happen to find ourselves in a similar situation. Teenagers are like Romero’s zombies: one or two are harmless but a group is a threat. Do we go up to them and ask that they turn down the volume, let it go and stay in the same spot, or move somewhere farther down the beach? But what if the situation is far more serious: vandalization and carjacking? Do we let it go then? What about when they injure or mutilate someone you care about? Where is the line between fight or flight? Given my low tolerance for lack of respect, things would have quickly escalated. The film constantly asks, “Is this a good idea?” We watch with rapt attention.
The film is memorable for its level of savagery. Skin being punctured by knives, boxcutters, and broken glass occur with lightning speed. But what I loved about the work is that it takes much longer time to show the repercussions of such actions. It is not afraid to show a gaping wound, how ugly it looks. There is so much painful screaming and other sounds of misery. At times all we hear is a person’s breathing, not just of the victims but also of those contemplating to enact further terrible actions and those who simply wish to walk away. It is small moments like these that elevate the work from a standard thriller to a work that’s more visceral.
Criticism is drawn from the material painting the working class as evil, especially since our protagonists are yuppies. I think such criticism does not hold much water; it shows that those who come from this angle have not paid much attention. Consider the dynamics of Brett’s group. While Brett is utterly despicable, a few of them actually possess a moral compass. They know what’s right from wrong; the difference between bullying and murder.
For instance, Cooper (Thomas Turgoose), the youngest of the pack, is constantly pressured—sometimes by being threatened—to belong. Do this or you’re out. Don’t be such a girl. Prove yourself. Another is Harry (James Burrows) who is closer to Brett’s age. There are in fact voices of dissent among these working class children. But they are muffled because the leader is such a monster, his roars constantly overpower.
The high tension “Eden Lake” is not for the faint of heart. I imagine many will watch chases and scenes involving victims being cornered and physically assaulted with fingers between their eyes. It is a terrific survival thriller; it is suspenseful, quite realistic, horrifying, and it inspires instructions to be hurled at the screen. It is near impossible to walk away from this movie without a strong impression. I appreciated its callbacks to the viciousness of Wes Craven’s “The Last House on the Left.” Both films possess the ability to marinate viewers in disquiet.