Eye For Film >> Movies >> Eden Lake (2008) Film Review
Reviewed by: Anton Bitel
Get some kids together, and you have a class – but in James Watkins' directorial debut, the 'hoodie horror' Eden Lake, a gang of kids exposes the faultlines where British class becomes split. In a scene in the middle of the film, a character is burnt alive with a tyre 'necklace', evoking the familiar imagery of a racially and socially divided South Africa – but in fact the signifiers of social apartheid are already enshrined within the titular 'lake', said once to have been a working stone quarry, then flooded and turned into a public park, and now being transformed into an exclusive gated community for the rich. The perfect arena, then, for the brutal conflict that follows, where it is not just adults pitted against children, but bourgeois liberals against recalcitrant proles. It is not so very far from where we all live today.
Steve (Michael Fassbender) picks up his girfriend Jenny (Kelly Reilly) from the primary school where she teaches in a leafy London suburb, and the pair sets off for a camping weekend at Eden Lake, where Steve hopes to propose to her. Things get off to an imperfect start – the locals in the nearby town are hardly friendly, and a sleepless night is spent in a noisy pub motel – but once they get to the idyllic quarry, all that can be forgotten.
Except that the lovers are not alone. A group of kids is drinking rowdily nearby, and when Steve asks them to turn their music down, things quickly get out of hand, as the teenagers' menacing pranks escalate into violence. With Steve severely injured, Jenny must call on all her inner reserves of strength to get out of the woods alive.
The children who populate the horror/thriller genres are often of the 'demon seed' variety – think the socoiopathic aliens of Village Of The Damned (1960), the satanic spawn in The Omen (1976), the murderous mobs of Would You Kill A Child? (1976), the sickle-wielding hick-lets of Children Of The Corn (1984), the vicious psychotic projections of The Brood (1979), or even the candy-loving tearaways of Hostel (2005). What is new in Eden Lake is the way that Watkins takes what is essentially the plot of Deliverance (1972), wherein urban outsiders must turn feral to survive the rustic locals, and uses it to tap right into contemporary anxieties about teens run amok. Here the locals are not drooling rednecks, but English kids having a laugh and playing out their adolescent power games beyond the reach of adult supervision – and their bullying, knife-wielding, binge-drinking, happy-slapping, joy-riding hooliganism could have been conjured from the pages of any tabloid today.
Still, Eden Lake is a little more subtle than that. The kids are drawn and individuated with a considerable degree of psychological plausibility, and Watkins shows genuine sensitivity to the workings of peer pressure on those who might otherwise be less willing to exhibit such behavioural extremes. Conversely, Jenny's tendency, when cornered, to lash out indiscriminately dramatises the dangers involved in the sort of kneejerk response that tabloids are so wont to provoke.
In any case, Watkins is not just blaming the kids, but their parents too, in what might be perceived as a frontal assault on the working classes in general. The perspective here (arguably cinema's default perspective) is strictly bourgeois, as we follow Jenny and Steve through a middle-class nightmare of full-body contact with the unwashed masses, terrified they will vandalise and beat and rob and maim and even kill, just to relieve the boredom of their oppressive existences. That it is actually frightening is down to the performances of Reilly and Jack O'Connell (as the kids' psychotic ringleader), the taut direction, Watkins' unflinchingly downbeat script - and that current mood of fear in the air that the film so perfectly captures.
Whether Eden Lake is at all edifying on the issues that it raises is open to debate. After all, its message is perhaps best summarised by the words of Steve's talking SatNav (with comedy Kylie Minogue voice), announced when the couple first drive into the precinct of Eden Lake: "At your first opportunity, turn around." It is the counsel of non-intervention, of quietism, of looking the other way – and the rest of the film illustrates what happens when such advice is not followed. Yet it is also, of course, the sort of counsel that is arguably part of the problem, in that the problem will not somehow vanish if it is simply ignored. On the contrary, the very worst way to bridge a division is to polarise its sides even further – and yet that is exactly what this films seems to be doing.
Perhaps, though, this is missing the point. Eden Lake is not trying to be a piece of social realist commentary, but is instead exploiting certain tensions within the nation to create edge-of-your-seat thrills. No matter what views it seems to be promoting, if it gets people talking about youth violence, class conflict and the gulf of social inequality in Britain, then all the better – and if it does not, at least it will give them a frightening, albeit derivative, ride.Reviewed on: 05 Sep 2008