We continue our journey through a month of frightening, bloody and violent films. For more, check out our 31 Days of Horror homepage.
In a manner that suggests that they have never seen a horror film, a young couple – Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (the always excellent Michael Fassbender) – head for a romantic weekend break to a wooded area around a lake. After being interrupted by a gang of local teenagers on the lake-side, but ignoring them, the couple find themselves hassled and then ultimately terrorised by the group after Steve confronts them. The situation quickly spirals out of control, and is then hurled dead-long into the realms of horror when Steve accidentally kills a dog belonging to the leader of the gang Brett (played with typical menace by rising star Jack O’Connell), and he seeks bloody retribution.
It has to be the horribly tense finale, in which we follow Jenny to her redemption as she stumbles into a house party asking for help, only to realize that she has unwittingly stumbled into a hornets’ nest as her would be saviors are revealed to be the parents of her tormentors. As the truth dawns, Jenny tries to escape to the bathroom, just as her captors realize who she is and what she has done, and we are presented with a wonderful moment where the door is kicked down, and Kelly is confronted by the enraged parents and a fire-eyed Brett.
The final pay-off, and the moment in which the horror is fully framed, is that final chilling shot of Brett deleting incriminating videos from his dead friend’s phone and looking coolly into the mirror, as every fiber of the viewer’s body screams outrage and disgust at the sound of the unseen horrors being visited on Jenny.
We have barbed-wire and knife-based torture, one harrowing count of necklacing (that’s death by fire inside a stack of tires for the uninitiated), a glass shard stabbing and a vehicular murder, as well as a savage beating, and an unseen violent attack that ultimately ends the film to a chorus of Jenny’s screams. While it isn’t the most kill-heavy of films, the manner of the violence is horribly realistic, and as such notches a higher score for its believability factor, albeit aside from the necklacing.
By the end, you realize exactly where it has all come from, and are afforded a brief insight into Brett’s relationship with his father – a dynamic characterized not by love, as it should be, but monstrously by violence. So what chance did he stand of escaping a life also defined by acts of violence? That question, and the other socio-political posers that the film offers (but which the director James Watkins has always denied intending) are what offer an intellectual foundation to the action, and set it apart from other cliched Idiot Couple In The Woods style horror capers.
There are a couple of implied sex scenes – including one very brightly lit, tent-based romp, as Rob Hunter’s Foreign Objects review mentioned way back in ’08 – but its mostly very tame. Eden Lake, it seems is not as raunchy as that other famous water-hole at Camp Crystal Lake.
At it’s heart, Eden Lake is a middle class horror that plays on the collective fear that a malignant sub-culture will reject the flimsy principals on which “normal,” respectable society is based and turn feral, bringing down the idea of a safe society. The film plays on the helplessness of the central couple, who are both unwilling and unable to fight back, because it’s not “the right thing to do”, and then crippled by the consequences when they do stand their ground. So, Eden Lake is like every other horror chase film, except this time there is no supernatural foe, and no safe set of assumptions of what will happen because the evil of the villains – the disenfranchised youths who would become the focus of myriad news stories three years after the film was released – is unquantifiable until it is confirmed.
Yes Jenny and Steve are idiotic, but we need them to be so that that clawing, nagging feeling in the pit of our stomach is amplified as their stupidity, and the outrageous injustice of the film’s pay-off converge to make that fantastical finale land its killing blow.
While some – including our own Mr Hunter – have pointed out that the conclusion is illogical and needlessly provocative in the hope of an added shock factor, experience of living in communities ravaged by the fear of these sort of horrors (as the exaggerated extreme, admittedly) would tell you that Watkins’ inbred community that makes its own rules and exacts its own “justice” is not as far from the truth as you might be comfortable with.
The director has made a paranoid fantasy of a horror film, with one foot in reality and the other firmly planted in the cliched, conventional realm of the horror chase film. Only this time, instead of an iconic, faceless killer with a cool-looking weapon, we have the angry face of our own disenfranchised children, chillingly evil and capable of unspeakable atrocities. And what’s more scary than that?