Written and Directed by James Watkins, 2008
More and more I find myself musing, “Now normally I don’t like movies about a couple being tortured in the woods, but…” It has gotten to the point where I wonder if I do harbor some undeclared love for pieces of garbage. Then along comes a film like EDEN LAKE to remind me why I fall back on that qualifier. Most films can be simmered with ease to a few ingredients, ingredients that we the familiar can extrapolate a larger agenda from. From time to time, a film takes those ingredients and gives rise to a comfortable, but unexpected recipe.
Not that James Watkins’ film is difficult to explain. It boils down readily to a couple in the wrong isolated place at the wrong time. Watkins’ is not an inventor of new premises, new characters, new villains or new ultra-violence. He is, however, a cultivator of proper timing and magnitude. Thus EDEN LAKE may remain a wrong place, wrong time flick, but a damn good one nonetheless. No reliance on hill people, torture porn or quick-cut jolts as a crutch. Nope, Watkins’ offers up a solid return to a bygone land of terror where the emphasis is on empathy with the damsel in distress, with her awful luck and her unerring drive to survive at all costs.
I like EDEN LAKE not because it beats the brutal hell out of its heroine, but because the heroine is capable of absorbing such a brutal beating. A subtle distinction, but a fundamental one. The HOSTELs and CAPTIVITYs of the world are bullfighting. The EDEN LAKEs of the world are boxing matches. The ugly beauty of it lays not in seeing one person pulverize another, rather in the gathering of storms, the steeling of spirits.
The gorgeous Kelly Reilly is at the center of the storm along with hubby boyfriend Michael Fassbender. Their intentions are for a romantic getaway to a filled in quarry in the middle of nowhere. When they get there, however, their plans are ruined by a local gang of obnoxious teens. Altercations ensue, Hubby accidentally kills the lead ruffian’s dog, shit grows out of proportion right quick. What follows is the most brutal, audience provoking cat-and-mouse game of 2008. Jaws will slacken, pulses will race, heads will be slapped, limits will be pushed. All by a director with a calm hand on the rudder of adrenaline.
As far 2008’s strictly guttural experiences go, its hard to top. It has the reality of THE STRANGERS, the character heart of THE RUINS, the emotional wrecking ball of FUNNY GAMES U.S. and the brutality of INSIDE without all the silliness. Such an amalgamation would be too much to handle without Watkins escalating pacing or Kelly Reilly’s indomitable piranha-out-of-water character for the audience to anchor on.
Those of the opinion that the worthy of horror require a complex plot (and I don’t fault you for it) take heed, there is little else to this scrappy British film. The sum of its parts amount to a bare knuckle brawl between a school teacher and an eerily plausible gang of cunt teenagers who need to be put in their place. The unspooling of harmony is unnerving not due to the violence, extreme it be, but the lost perspective that permeates the villainous twats behind it all. The disassociation of cause and effect is terrifying.
EDEN LAKE is plausible, yet never panders to the, “Based on True Events” fantasy slug-line that follows many a horror film these days about ambiguous, real crime. I respect that. To me that just proves its heritage as a limit brushing thrill ride and not as a gung-ho, boundary pushing piece of garbage.