Eden Lake (2008) *** ½
Directed By: James Watkins.
Written By: James Watkins.
Starring: Kelly Reilly (Jenny), Michael Fassbender (Steve), Jack O'Connell (Brett), Finn Atkins (Paige), Jumayn Hunter (Mark), Thomas Turgoose (Cooper), James Burrows (Harry), Thomas Gill (Ricky), Shaun Dooley (Jon), James Gandhi (Adam).
Eden Lake is an exceptionally good horror film. It is terrifying, disturbing and downright chilling. What makes the movie so effective is that neither the victims, nor the killers, are portrayed as cookie cutter characters, but real people. The fact that the killers this time are not a group of inbred freaks, or back water yokels, but realistic teenagers makes the movie downright disturbing.
The movie stars Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender as Jenny and Steve, a good looking young couple who decide to go on a camping trip for the weekend. The go to an abandoned quarry that Steve knows. The area around there used to be a public park, but now it’s turning into a construction site for the development of new homes. No matter, that just makes their vacation all the more private. They are having a good time, until a group of teenagers show up. Each confrontation escalates a little more. First it’s just an argument about the volume on a stereo. Then it’s the kids goofing off, and finally it gets to the point where the kids steal their SUV for a joyride, leading to violence. Things get so far out of control that there really is no turning back.
Poor Michael Fassbender. In Hunger, also from this year, he is beaten, tortured and slowly starves himself to death. In this movie, he is beaten and tortured, and that’s just the beginning. Kelly Reilly has it worse. This is almost an endurance test for her as an actress, as she spends so much time running, screaming, covered in mud, blood and who knows what else. The fact that these two actors are able to forge a connection between them is what makes the movie so effective. Writer/director James Watkins gives them time at the beginning of the movie to build a rapport with each other. By the time things escalate, we are clearly on their side, and asking ourselves what we would do in the same situation. These two actors never give in to hysterics or over acting – they behave much like we like they would.
The kids in the movie are just as effective. With the exception of the ringleader Brett (Jack O’Connell – absolutely bone chillingly good), they do not appear to be all that bad. Like many teenagers, they like to hang out, drink, smoke and make fun of people they see as uncool. By themselves, none of them would probably do what they do in this movie. But there is a difference between what you’re capable of as an individual, and what you’re capable of as a group. Take Cooper (Thomas Turgoose, so good in Shane Meadows’ This is England in 2007, and apparently just as good in Meadows Somer’s Town). He appears to be the youngest of the gang, and the most hesitant to stab Steve when Brett makes them all take a turn (that way, no one can squeal). He is clearly uneasy about it, doesn’t want to do it, and later in the movie, when he comes across Jenny by himself, we get the impression that he may even help her – but he doesn’t get a chance. Adam (James Gandhi) is even more tragic – he isn’t a member of the gang so much as their usual target – so grateful is he that they are picking on someone else, he’s willing to do something he would never do otherwise. Quickly, tragically, however he discovers who is real friends are.
For most of its running time, Eden Lake is a supremely effective horror film. It’s a violent, bloody film, but it never devolves into torture porn. There is nothing thrilling about the violence in this film – it’s real, and it’s painful. But in it’s the movie final scenes where the film truly elevates itself above just an above average genre film. We’ve spent the film wondering how the kids could have gotten so far out of control – so twisted morally that they would think that they were justified in doing what they are doing. Then we meet their parents, and it all snaps into place. Poor Jenny and Steve – they never had a chance.