In August 2011, an explosion of widespread rioting and looting ripped throughLondon, seemingly symptomatic of a perceived widespread state of social decay that the media dubbed ‘Broken Britain.’ Many rioting, disenfranchised youths, actually stopped to pose for photographs with stolen goods, proudly, brazenly posting them on social networks for all to see. These events gave the word a worrying glimpse of something monstrous lurking within British youth culture: a culture of apathy, of rights without responsibility and of deplorable behaviour without fear of consequence.
Put simply, the kids don’t give a fuck.
Such a nice lad! Wouldn’t harm a fly…
In recent years, a glut of British revenge thrillers like Outlaw and Harry Brown have dealt with the fears stirred up by this idea of a nation writhing in moral panic. With Eden Lake, Woman In Black director James Watkins shrewdly poured these anxieties into the horror mould, crafting a thoroughly provocative little nail-biter featuring an all-too-recognisable terror that probably won’t do much forUK tourism.
Heading off on a countryside weekend break, young city couple Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (a pre-Oscars-fame Michael Fassbender) expect a relaxing, romantic time at the picturesqueEdenLake. However, their vacation is interrupted by the seemingly unprovoked intimidations of a group of menacing rural delinquents. A confrontation leads to brutal, bloody consequences, with Steve taken captive and subjected to sickening, mobile phone-filmed torture, plunging Jenny into a heart-racing battle for survival.
This wasn’t in the brochure…
What follows is a clever spin on the ‘lost-in-the-middle-of-nowhere’ stalk n’ slash concept, with the unruly teens as the hunters, rather than the hunted. When an altercation results in the death of ringleader Brett (Skins’ Jack O’Connell)’s dog, the holidaymakers discover these urchins are capable of more ghastly things than they could ever have imagined. Unlike the ostensibly indestructible Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers, these kids are painted as all too recognisable, too human, too real.
Much of this is down to O’Connell’s toweringly fearsome performance as raging, perma-scowled, domineering Brett. Alarmingly credible, his bellowing, emotional turn also hints at hidden depths: an angry child lashing out at anything and everything, terrified to show weakness, regardless of consequence, even if that means setting a man on fire.
Brett is a classic movie monster, made all the more chilling because you need only read a newspaper to know these monsters actually exist.
Fassbender, though not given much to do other than convey pain and suffering, nevertheless thoroughly convinces as a shuddering, convulsing man in shock, clinging to survival. It’s a brave role for Fassbender, as Steve is unmasked as far from the alpha male he sees himself as when faced with these fearless adolescents who chew him up and spit him out.
Reilly, too, is commendable as pleasant, well-mannered schoolteacher Jenny who initially comes across as helpless, weedy and gratingly middle-class, but is then forced into one helluva badass transformation. On the run, against the elements, she is put through the wringer, seeking refuge in freezing, filthy waters and stinking rubbish bins, before emerging, mud-encrusted and wounded, a changed woman, something primal, reminiscent of I Spit On Your Grave.
Eden Lake seems to suggest the only way to stand up to the dregs of society is to stoop to their level, and the resulting, ultra-violent stand-off is a brave, unsettling sequence in an incredibly bold, pant-wettingly tense picture.
Watkins, who really knows his way around a chase-sequence, directs with a confident, kinetic visual style, masterminding electrifying set-pieces that positively fizz with tension. His camera often ominously looms high over vast, remote woodland, reminiscent of Kubrick’s atmospheric panoramic opening to The Shining, hinting at something awful lurking, slowly drawing us into this nightmare scenario.
The gory effects during the horrific torture scenes are satisfyingly squelchy, all vomit-inducing close-ups of oozing wounds, while, brilliantly, the impassive yobs seem more affected by the blood spatters on their box-fresh trainers.
The script does, unfortunately, suffer from some ridiculous implausibilities. The passage of time suggests this ghoulish game of cat and mouse has been raging for three days, yet not once do we see the kids appear to go home, sleep, or eat. Perhaps they’re killer robots? Also, Jenny and Steve feel decidedly undercooked as characters – we are given just enough to know that they’re the ‘goodies,’ yet it never feels enough to really care about them when the barbed wire comes out. Clinging to life, Steve’s announcement that ‘I was thinkingAfricafor the honeymoon,’ is unintentionally cheesy and almost downright laughable. Having crafted such a formidable, imposing villain in Brett, Watkins’ failure to develop his main characters is a shame.
With Eden Lake, Watkins paints depressingly believable characters and situations, culminating in a powerful, disturbing piece of social commentary that offers no easy answers. Not just frightening, this picture points a glaring spotlight on theUK’s youth, reminding us that evil is not confined to the woods, but is on the streets and could be in your home.
The kids are not alright!!!
Take a Drink: whenever Steve is, quite sensibly, implored to ‘just leave it!’
Take a Drink: whenever Brett bullies someone into doing something unspeakable.
Do a Shot: every time this film makes you despair at the sorry, sorry state of the world…