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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Eden Lake (2008) review


Michael Fassbender (Steve), Kelly Reilly (Jenny), Jack O'Connell (Brett), Tara Ellis (Abi), Finn Atkins (Paige), Jumayn Hunter (Mark), Thomas Turgoose (Cooper), James Burrows (Harry), Tom Gill (Ricky), Lorraine Bruce (Tanya),

Directed by James Watkins

"They're just boys being long as they leave us alone."

The Short Version: James Watkins directorial debut is a massive punch to the gut merciless in its violence. The story has been done before, but in seldom such a provocative, savagely astute manner. It's the new millennium's STRAW DOGS, but possesses an extremely depressing tone of unmitigated hopelessness in a world gone wild. Bearing slight similarities to other 'backwoods' horrors like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, Watkins movie is highly recommended mature horror for viewers with strong stomachs.

Steve and Jenny take off for an idyllic getaway in the country to a quiet spot called Eden Lake. Not long after they've arrived, the couple encounter a group of young, but belligerent youngsters. When Steve confronts the motley clutch of miscreants, it sets off a senseless and increasing level of violent encounters. With the bloodthirsty gang of kids in pursuit, Steve and Jenny attempt to get out of Eden Lake alive.

"I'm not going to be bullied away by a bunch of 12 year olds."

This unrelentingly vicious British horror movie is one of the most stunningly breath-taking pieces of grueling horror to emerge in quite some time. It's of the 'Backwoods' school of terror filmmaking with a nod towards STRAW DOGS (1970) and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972). The brutality increases as the film wears on and at times, almost becomes unbearable. Rarely have I seen a film in recent memory that has such carefully defined characters that are rendered all the more realistic by chaotic world events that can draw in the viewer in such a compelling way. Then, in ferociously mischievous fashion, the filmmakers pull the rug out from under you. The 'Dimension Extreme' moniker on the DVD case, for once, is warranted.

The acting here is of a high caliber all around especially the two male leads and central antagonist. These young actors truly make you want to see them get their just desserts by the end. The dialog may be indecipherable at times from the thick British accents, but actions speak louder than words shortly after Steve and his soon-to-propose-to girlfriend, Jenny, reach Eden Lake. Another point on how successful everyone involved was, I can't think of another film that made me as angry at what I was seeing. EDEN LAKE is incredibly bleak and the performers should be commended for pulling off what many films fail to accomplish.

"We look after our own round here!"

Brett gets "fired up" (if you've seen the film, you know what I mean) with one of the kids he bullies

Jack O'Connell (as Brett) deserves the David Hess award for Most Reprehensible Villain. Hess was so convincing as Krug in Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, that it was reported that people actually believed he was that character! O'Connell comes off in much the same way. To put it bluntly, he's a scummy little bastard. What makes Brett so vile and uncompromisingly evil is that he's basically a young kid, albeit a hoody wearing dirt-monger prone to inconceivable levels of rage and violence. During the finale, this vicious veneer of vehemence loses its loquacious luster when events have been turned around in his favor.

The product of an abusive home, Brett bullies his circle of friends, forcing them to take part in sadistic torture so that they have just as much blood on their hands as he does. Not all of them are totally free of blame. The gang takes photos of their cruelties on a cell phone. Cell phones play a big part in this brutal game of survival; unfortunately, they are used to the detriment of the protagonists during a crucial moment and provide a final taste of grim irony during the last scene.

"They're just children..."

Kelly Reilly does her best Marilyn Burns impression--covered in blood and shit and running from savages

Apparently there's a particular youth culture in the UK that have contributed to an alarmingly high level of crime; derogatorily referred to as 'Chavs', socially uncultured youths associated with violent juvenile delinquency and murder. One such case from January of 2008 involved repeat offender and 18 year old Adam Swellings who, only hours after being freed on bail, was convicted, along with two others of beating a father of three to death who stood up to them. This is what happens in EDEN LAKE. Brett and his gang become obnoxious and arrogantly vociferous leading to Steve standing up to them even though Jenny tries to convince him to let it go. Still, nothing Steve says warrants the level of brutality that Brett rains down on them much like real life crimes such as the one described above.

One of the relatively few quiet moments in the film and one of the many beautiful photographic shots

It's a stroke of genius to make the character of Jenny a schoolteacher. At the beginning, we see her closing out her day in the classroom filled with the vibrant innocence of the youngsters surrounding her, a stark contrast to the later crew we're introduced to. Watkins script also touches on child abuse which again collides with the apparent normalcy of our main protagonists alluding to the violence that lies ahead. This divide in social class and the way they are depicted may be deemed controversial to some, but it strikes a visceral chord just the same.

This is what separates movies like EDEN LAKE from empty calorie horror flicks like FRIDAY THE 13TH and others of that ilk. Nothing against those movies, but Watkins film hits much closer to home with its young, foul-mouthed lord of the flies than any mythical slasher icon that outlives any type of bodily destruction. Watkins has designed an infinitely frightening little movie that derives its terror straight from the pages of the news which makes it far scarier than any mask wearing, knife wielding killer cut up.

The ominously sweeping photography and the haunting, stirring score add to an already impressive, if grim package. An incredibly vile little movie, EDEN LAKE is likely to stir angry feelings in viewers, probably more so for the British audience who may identify more closely with the material. Depending on your mood, this movie is definitely not for everyone. Approach with extreme caution, although very well acted and directed, a stop over at EDEN LAKE is one respite you won't soon forget.

This review is representative of the Dimension Extreme DVD


A.D. said...

I'm a big fan of this film and found it to be a pleasant surprise when I first watched it. Back when Dimension Extreme was still around, I felt they had a lot more misses than hits, so I went into this with very low expectations. Absolutely loved Kelly Reilly in this, but the movie stands out for its unrelenting brutality, which you covered well in your review. I definitely appreciate it for going certain places that most recent horror films don't.

Joel Harley said...

Cool. I loved this movie. Great review too.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Excellent review Brian of this savage and ferocious British horror film. Like most British horror EDEN LAKE is very politically and socially aware. You're correct to mention the emergence of a disenfranchised youth culture in Britain; one implicitly linked to class and education. The problem with the film is that has a ripped from the headlines quality that is both hysterical and dubious. Films like this are dangerous because they prefer to offer sadism instead of remedy. The characters are caught in a cycle of abuse that has existed for at least a generation, and their lack of positive role models accounts for much of the behaviour. I think the film is more critical of parenting than society as a whole, but the obvious bias of the picture makes it feel almost propagandist. So while I find the point of the film to be very dubious indeed (after all this was intended to make money) I thought it worked extremely well as a horror film.

Maynard Morrissey said...

you nailed it, it's one of these movies you absolutely never forget

venoms5 said...

@ A.D.: I was under the impression this was playing theaters here (it played a few in the end, I think) and eventually forgot all about it. I later saw it in wal mart and by the time I was going to pick it up, it was gone from there. Saw it on cable a couple weeks ago and thought it was an amazing movie.

@ Joel: Thanks for commenting, Joel. I look forward to more from Watkins. It's definitely one of the best horror movies I've seen especially considering all the crap that's out there now.

@ Shaun: Thanks, Shaun. The film does touch fleetingly on child abuse as a progenitor to the overly aggressive children. It's a difficult movie to watch and recommend especially to those who are easily offended, or emotional considering the way the film ends.

@ Maynard: I'm so glad I finally got around to seeing it then receiving the DVD in the mail the other day. I only wish there was a commentary track. There was only a trailer and a very brief "making of" segment.

Unknown said...

I've actually been avoiding this film since all the blurbs I've read just seemed like Last House on the Left rip-offs and I'm not really a fan of that movie to begin with, but I think you may have justed changed my mind.

venoms5 said...

There's elements of LAST HOUSE there, JP, but I wouldn't say it borrows wholesale from that film. This one pretty much stands on its own although it is reminiscent of other similar brutal horror movies with a gloomy tone to them. This one, though, has some truth behind it.

I Like Horror Movies said...

Excellent review and I have to agree here V. I have been meaning to get back and watch this one for a second time, but it is definitely one of the better offerings out of Britain in the past several years.

venoms5 said...

It's on cable again tonight (or was it last night?) on The Movie Channel. I do wish the DVD had more substantial features on it.

Andrew said...

This sounds like an awesome film....
I can't wait to see it now.

Great review.

venoms5 said...

I hope you like it, Andrew. You'll likely feel sick afterward. It's an incredibly strong movie.

Ty said...

Good review! Will bump this up on the queue.

venoms5 said...

Be prepared to be depressed when it's over with! Great movie, though.

Kaijinu said...

sorry, mate, but I loathe this movie. Don't get me wrong, but it never was scary for me. It's unforgetable, yeah, but that's because those damn little runts came of as more annoying than threatening and so does the leads.

that is, at least, how I see this film. To each his own, i guess.

venoms5 said...

Hey, as you said, we can't all like the same things. I think I mentioned though that this one isn't for everybody. It was like a punch to the gut for me when I first watched it.

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