As a word of warning, this review has an inferred, but unavoidable, spoiler. I don’t spell it out necessarily, but if you’re an avid fan of recent horror films then you’ll understand the implication.
If you didn’t know Eden Lake was a brutal thriller before it began, the images of a bloodied, bound, and screaming woman flashed on the screen during the opening credits should be your first clue. What follows is a brief introduction to Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender), a young couple with plans for a quiet weekend getaway at an old, lake-filled quarry. The couple arrives at the remote lake and are soon met by some teen hooligans with a loud boom-box, an imposing Rottweiler, and attitude to spare. One minor conflict escalates until Steve accidentally kills the dog belonging to the group’s de facto leader. The angry twat decides Jenny and Steve should suffer and cajoles his indifferent and initially unwilling twats-in-training to join him for a night of chasing, assaulting, and possible killing. From that point forward, the couple must fight for their lives with only their wits and their wills to survive.
Unfortunately for Jenny and Steve, they’re both a couple of fucking idiots.
Horror films by their very nature require audiences to accept some poor choices on the part of the protagonist(s), because if they only made smart decisions they probably wouldn’t be in danger for long and the movie would only last five minutes. I get that. But these same characters (and the filmmakers by default) have to meet the audience halfway. The protagonists have to be capable and appealing, and they need to make an effort to fight back. Jenny and Steve are likable enough, although we know very little about them aside from their jobs and his intention to propose lakeside. But capable and smart? Not so much.
Multiple weapons are acquired then dropped for no good reason. On two occasions, Jenny and/or Steve are driving a vehicle, fully in control, their pursuers on foot behind them, and they still manage to crash the car. The two least threatening members of the gang are killed, but aside from the brief scuffle early on, neither Jenny nor Steve fight back at all… they run, they get knocked out or the movie cuts away, and next thing we know they’re tied up. At one point, Jenny looks to have finally had enough. She prepares for battle, the audience prepares to cheer her on, and then… she stabs the weakest kid in the group, drops her weapon, and leaves. And who has sex in a brightly lit tent at night?
The biggest problem Eden Lake has though is it’s resolution. Writer/director James Watkins’ thesis appears at first to simply be that kids in the UK are out of control. The teens in particular (the ‘chavs’ to be even more precise) are uneducated, ignorant, and alarmingly aggressive. But Watkins throws in a few scenes to hint that the real problem with the youth starts at home, and then he literally drives that point home. (And I do mean literally.) The ending is an absurd attempt to pile on to the recent trend towards nihilistic horror, which it does, but with an absolutely ridiculous “shock value” twist completely lacking in logic or believability.
At the very least, Eden Lake looks really good. Multiple helicopter shots from above the trees give us an idea of the grand scale of the surroundings, while sharp editing and crisp visuals deep within the woods creates an effectively creepy claustrophobic feeling. Reilly and Fassbender both give strong performances, as do some of the teen ruffians. Watkins has essentially made a good looking, but stupid thriller, which doesn’t bode well for his next job as director of The Descent: Part 2.
Eden Lake is currently in limited theatrical release and comes out January 6th on Dimension Extremes DVD.
The Upside: Some good performances; good cinematography; good (but limited) effects
The Downside: Absurd ending; inept character decisions; hard to be terrified of a kid whose only swear word is “fook”
Related Topics: Foreign Objects