Starring: Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Jack O’Connell
Written & Directed By: James Watkins
Eden Lake is a film that certainly took me by surprise to say the least. I was expecting the typical couple goes off on vacation, gets lost, and ends up on the trip from Hell thanks to some killer stalking them. I expected it to be generic, predictable, and very formulaic. This couldn’t be farther from the truth though. It’s no surprise that it comes from the UK as its tone feels just like some of the gory, intense, and completely brilliant foreign films that have recently come out of the genre. Eden Lake takes theoretically innocent and harmless teenagers and kids and turns them in to nearly demonic figures that will stop at nothing to torture and murder simply to mess with their elders rather than respecting them. It’s a brilliant film with just the right amount of blood, despair, and disturbance, reversing the roles of power and analyzing why youth has such a heavy dependence on excessive violence.
Jenny (Reilly) is a schoolteacher who loves what she does and is great at it. Jenny takes a break to go on her honeymoon at Eden Lake with her husband, Steve (Fassbender). This isn’t exactly Jenny’s ideal vacation spot since there is screaming and irresponsible parents who seem to take everything out on their children. The walls are far too thin and when they try to relax by the beach the next day, a gang of teenagers and kids are blaring music loudly. Steve asks them to keep it down, but they refuse and are very confrontational with him. Still, Steve refuses to be scared off by these kids. Soon they won’t even have the option of walking away from this though. They try to leave, but their car keys get stolen and it’s obvious who took them. They find the kids and demand that they give them back. After messing with them for a while, the gang breaks out a knife, threatening Jenny and Steve with it. Their dog ends up getting killed, which changes the kid’s motives from having fun to getting revenge.
These kids are out for their blood and the only way they will survive is for one of them to escape and get help. Steve injures himself when the car crashes and can barely move. He sends Jenny off to get help, but before she can leave she finds him chained up and being tortured by these young boys before her very eyes. To really make him miserable they set out to find the girl to do the same to her. Jenny runs for her life and attempts to outsmart these boys at all costs. They are slowly murdering her one true love and have her seemingly trapped in the woods where danger is around every corner. She gets to the point where she can’t play the victim anymore and has to fight back just as dirty as they are.
Kelly Reilly did an incredible job, portraying polar opposites that were within the same person. She is sweet and charming as the schoolteacher and wife just wanting to have a romantic weekend away with Steve. Step by step, especially when a real threat is posed, she begins losing this sweet, defenseless mentality. The more she is pushed the more that inner kick ass girl comes out of her. It is really amazing what she endures. The way she keeps on going on, clearly so numb from it all, becomes this seemingly unbeatable image that drives the movie, taking in to a whole new turn that personally I found pride in.
Michael Fassbender also did very well as Steve. While his transition wasn’t quite as drastic he really showed his struggle in his attempts to stay civilized while being the man and protecting his wife. The civilized element quickly drops as he fights to do whatever he can to keep her alive. Jack O’Connell perhaps gives the most frightening performance as Brett, the leader of the gang. At first glance he seems like a harmless enough kid who just likes to put up a front to maintain a strong image. He is completely vicious and it is hard to find anything human about him. Even when those that he should care about are injured or killed this doesn’t seem to be any difference to him. His objective is to kill, torment, and essentially, to prove that he can do this; to prove that he is a force to be reckoned with.
Many people have complained about the ending, probably because it goes against the grain. It’s not a happy ending, but let’s face it, this is not a happy story. It’s not what you expect and in that alone, it succeeds. The ending is dark and bleak, really hitting on what has driven first time director, James Watkins, to create this film. One important thing to remember about the film is it’s not a revenge film, from anyone’s perspective. It’s a survival film and an analysis on youth violence.
In many ways, it’s not even our main character’s story. There is a great lead up from the much more sane, safe world that they lived in before to the woods of essential heathens. They seem real to us, we begin to care about them, and the boys are the ones who seem foreign and inhuman. When this couple goes through everything that they do, we cheer for them against the odds especially. After being beaten down so much, they manage to find an inner strength and fight within them. This makes for great pacing and storytelling. Yet, this is really the challenge that Watkins presents to his audience, whether we can handle the build up and empowerment we are given in the grimmest of odds and accept that this story is not their story, but the heartless and cruel, Brett’s story. After what we have witnessed we don’t want to accept this, we don’t want to care for him, we only have hate for him. I appreciated that even through this transferal of character concentration that Brett wasn’t made out to be all that sympathetic, just doomed to be this person that he became.
Eden Lake really hits on the theory that violence begins in the home. We witness parents who use and condone violence and then let their kids get away with anything. Denial is a big part of this. “Not my kid” is the response when Steve tells a waitress that there are some kids causing trouble. A very defensive nature is predominant, not even letting the thought cross their mind that while their kids are free to run around and do as they please all day, they could be causing harm to others. Even when they find out that their son has committed murder, they condone it themselves and simply say if the police come looking for answers, “They won’t find any”. The only things these parents seem to be helping their children with is getting away with murder. These kids were testing their limits and learned that they don’t have any. They come to realize that murder and hunting human lives might be the only way for them to get their release, where they get to be in control and exert the power for once.
Eden Lake has some bloody moments, but it doesn’t overdo the gore. Even when we don’t see the bloodshed, every minute is completely uncomfortable, almost transferring the victims’ pain to the viewer. Eden Lake is a dark, gripping and intense tale with great character development, pacing, and reversal of roles that depicts how violence is bred. Eden Lake is hands down the best horror movie I have seen so far this year using creativity, grit, brutality, yet great honesty.