Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Eden Lake (2008) : Tell Me Again Why We Didn't Go To Paris?

Written and directed by James Watkins (The Woman in Black, 2012) and produced by the makers of The Descent, Eden Lake is a smart yet disturbing tale of romantic weekend plans gone completely awry.

Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender, before he was MICHAEL FASSBENDER!) are a couple very much in love who are off for a weekend holiday of camping at an off-the-beaten-path lake.  Steve even has the engagement ring in his pocket, awaiting the perfect moment. As they journey by Jeep through the rugged woods to their destination, they nearly wreck into a gang of teenage delinquents on bicycles. Averting that disaster, they once again encounter the hoodlums when they are settling in for a lakeside afternoon on the beach.  The gang makes it a point to blare their rap music at full blast as they party obnoxiously, and their Rottweiler continually makes his way down the beach to the couple's campsite, barking threateningly.  The duo tries to endure the group's mischief and manages to make it through the night.

As morning comes, Steve and Jenny find that their food has been infested with bugs so they decide to make their way to town to look for somewhere to chow.  Steve runs over a bottle that was purposely left under his tire and hastily fixes the tire, cursing that someone needs to reprimand the brats.  They try out the local diner and ask their waitress if she has seen the gang of kids on bikes, admitting to her that they have been harassed by them.  Unfortunately the waitress is one of the kid's mother. Oops! (I might have waited until after lunch before mentioning the gang. Pretty sure they got some spit with their eggs that day.)

Driving back to the campsite (which I wouldn't have even bothered to go back to at this point!), Steve notices the gang's bikes outside a house.  He stupidly checks it out, letting himself into the house.  While searching around, a father of one of the kids shows up and this forces Steve to hide, then dangerously leave through a window and slide down the roof from upstairs, only to jump a fence and run back to the jeep, just missing the wrath of the pissed off Dad, who has been shouting for his son since he walked in the door.  (Now really, isn't it time to hit the road and get out of Dodge? But noooooooo!)

Back at the beach (!), Steve decides to go snorkeling while Jenny takes a nap. (As if I would be able to sleep, knowing those assholes are around somewhere!).  When he heads back to shore, they notice their gear bag is gone.  As are Steve's wallet, cell phone, and car keys.  Uh-oh.  Naturally, when they return to where the Jeep was parked, it is missing.  Soon they are being chased menacingly by the group. 

After searching for awhile, they finally come across the gang hanging out at a campsite and Steve commands their apparent leader Brett (Jack O'Connell) to give back his things.  When Brett produces a knife, he and Steve begin to brawl and somehow in the scuffle Steve accidentally stabs the dog, mortally wounding him.  Brett loses his mind and when Steve and Jenny secure the keys and drive off in the Jeep, he and the rest of the gang chase them on their bikes.

As in every movie like this, Steve somehow manages to wreck the Jeep, getting himself stuck in the car. Jenny is able to escape and she runs off to get help.  She hides in the woods until daylight (so much for going to get help!) and returns to find Steve gone.  She hears a commotion and follows the voices to a clearing where she sees them torturing Steve, who is tied up with barbed wire.  The boys take turn stabbing Steve while Paige (the lone girl in the group) videos it with her phone.  (It should be mentioned that not everyone in this gang of punks are willing accomplices, and in fact in many instances some seem to want to run - until Brett forces their compliance by filming them all taking an active role in mangling and tormenting Steve.)

When Jenny is spotted, the gang takes off after her on bikes, which allows Steve to get away. He's lost a great deal of blood though, so when Jenny finally finds him she does some makeshift first-aid and they plot together to try to get out of the mess they are in.  And it's a chaotic and horrific mess, to say the least. Suffice it to say, Steve will have difficulty finding that 'perfect moment' to propose.

Eden Lake is a visceral, nasty-ass film that holds nothing back and yet seems entirely possible. There are no monsters in the traditional sense - no aliens, no ghosts, nothing supernatural.  It's just man against man in the most primal sense of the word. While Steve and Jenny would seem to have the upper hand, because they are adults, have a car, and most importantly - have the opportunity (several of them, actually) to just leave and write it off as a weekend from hell, they unfortunately drop the ball not once, not twice, but several times - allowing their younger counterparts to use their knowledge of the territory in which they live to their benefit, which it turns out is the greatest advantage of all. 

Whether or not Steve and Jenny make it out of the woods intact and are able to salvage their weekend (and their lives) is not for me to tattle here, for I don't think telling the ending is the best way to close this post.
But I will say that this is a truly frightening and tense film, one that I really enjoyed.  The acting is excellent, though the British accent of the lead bully Brett can sometimes be hard to understand.  He speaks quickly, and if you're not from in country it might be difficult to hear everything.  My husband kept saying "what did he say?" - so I know it wasn't just me.  But what we lose in translation is made up by the gritty performance he puts in as the cruel and sadistic villain here.

Obviously Watkins is a director to watch, though I find it curious that something as ferocious as Eden Lake was his first film, and his second turns out to be this year's remake of The Woman in Black, a classic English ghost story. Seems unlikely, yet it could prove that he is a man of many talents, and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here. 

All in all, I would have to recommend Eden Lake very enthusiastically.  It's not every day that a film can get this 'terrorizing-a-loving-couple' formula even half-way decent, so to have something of this caliber come along is a real treat.  The only films of late that I find to be on equal footing are perhaps The Strangers (2008) and Them (Ils, 2006)
If you haven't seen Eden Lake yet, don't be afraid to check it out.  You'll thank me later.


Kaijinu said...

for some reason, I can't stand this film. I love Ils a lot, and worship The Strangers, but this? I don't know, it's beyond my own understanding to why, despite the film's grittiness and truly intensifying atmosphere, I couldn't get myself to like it at least...

Doug Brunell said...

I feel the same way. "Ils" is terrific.

Alan Ryker said...

I recommend this movie all the time. This movie will truly make you feel bad about humanity. Because it's so plausible.