Eden Lake. 2008. Directed & Written by James Watkins
Starring Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Tara Ellis, Jack O’Connell, Finn Atkins, Jumayn Hunter, Thomas Turgoose, James Burrows, Tom Gill, Lorraine Bruce, Shaun Dooley, James Gandhi, Bronson Webb, Lorraine Stanley, & Rachel Gleeves. Rollercoaster Films/Aramid Entertainment Fund.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
There are many city v. rural films out there in the thriller genre. From Deliverance to any number of backwoods horror movies, such as the Wrong Turn series and plenty others. But not all of those have the effect of James Watkins’ Eden Lake.
Before Michael Fassbender broke out big time and in the days prior to Kelly Reilly’s huge break, Watkins crafted an equally pulse pounding and disturbing horror-thriller with these two in the lead roles. Aided by a script with some sharp teeth, as well as the tense action which keeps the film’s pace at a quick pace, Eden Lake will linger with you afterwards. This one boasts a terrifying finish that lets you get no rest, no matter that the rest of the film is brutally intense and shocking. However, there’s no shock for shock’s sake. Rather, we get a glimpse into the world of misled youths whose lives were likely influenced into running down the drain by their equally nasty parents. Not everything is completely tight in the screenplay from Watkins, but he makes up for those bits with interesting writing and two (or more) lumps of tragedy stirred in.
Heading into the bush for a weekend getaway, Steve (Michael Fassbender) takes his girlfriend Jenny (Kelly Reilly), a nursery school teacher, for some swimming and a bit of camping. They lounge on a nice freshwater beach enjoying the surroundings, the warm weather. After a little time, some young hooligans arrive with their loud music, their big dog, and start to make things less pleasant. Led by the crass Brett (Jack O’Connell), they get on Steve’s nerves, especially when the dog gets a little too close to Jenny. Soon the kids leave, then Jenny and Steve enjoy their time alone.
The next morning, turns out the kids broke a bottle and punctured one of Steve’s tires. He chases them in town after seeing them on their bikes, and later finds one of their houses. But this is only the beginning. When the couple encounters the crew again and the situation turns ugly, Brett’s dog is accidentally stabbed and killed by Steve, in self defense. This prompts an all-out war between the couple and the teenagers.
Steve and Jenny may not make it home from their trip after all.
The first thing we see in Eden Lake is Jenny at the school where she teaches. There are little innocent kids, who play child-like games, they laugh and fool around. Jenny’s obviously good with them, comfortable in her career. So to see everything get juxtaposed here with the situation not long after with the older kids is interesting. We go from little innocent children to big bad teenagers who, somewhere along the line from then to now, grew up from being kids into becoming full-fledged monsters. Also, I love the transformation Jenny undergoes as a meek, mild-mannered teacher who later is forced to become a warrior and survivor. Particularly – SPOILER ALERT – once Steve is dead, Jenny is left to her own devices. Even before he dies, she’s got to take care of herself, and him due to his awful injuries. There’s this long line of character development in a short time. Leading up to the serious confrontations, Jenny appears as quiet, reserved, someone who doesn’t want to rock the boat. The tragic events which unfold throughout the film mold her into someone fierce and assertive, and somebody not afraid to defend herself at all costs. For the handful of really dumb moves by Jenny and Steve, there are enough instances of well-written characters and the main parallel between Jenny’s occupation/where she ends up to justify Eden Lake as a solid thriller. Late in the film, Jenny is made to commit a terrible act – another one of self defense in this plot – but it is devastating, for us and for her. This is probably the pinnacle of the parallel in her character.
Even from the small supporting roles of the teenagers we get solid acting. Above them all stands Jack O’Connell. Recently he’s done amazing turns in films like Starred Up, but in 2008 this was a performance to watch. He is a terrible young man capable of extremely vicious violence, his personality a sick and turgid cesspool. The depth of depravity comes out, especially in a scene that comes just after the one-hour mark; his enjoyment is far too evident, which makes the character so powerfully menacing. This film could have had any number of young people take the role of Brett. With O’Connell, the performance is disturbing and forceful and you hate Brett to the core. Note: in the last moments with his character, you can almost see a twinkle of something in his eye, but largely I believe it’s not regret; it’s the same twinkle people like Ted Bundy and other killers would get in their eyes, holding back their real selves just behind it.
Fassbender does well with his role and it comes off naturally. Although, it is ultimately Reilly whose talent sells Eden Lake into its suspense. We’re often taken by the danger of a thriller when it’s a woman in danger, simply because she’s a woman, men are after her, et cetera. Yet Reilly brings a life to Jenny. Again, she’s a timid sort of lady, though, as time progresses this timidity wears off, and her battle-face shows. The vulnerability of her character always shines through, most scarily in the last scene. But she commands your attention to the presence of her character, and you truly feel for her every step of the way, despite some of the dumb choices (fault of writing; not her performance).
The ending still leaves me in shambles. Really puts the cap on things as far as determining whether or not the behaviour of the teenagers has been ingrained in them over time.
A 4 out of 5 star film, indeed. There are certainly a few spots where Watkins needed to tighten up some things, such as a few truly strange choices the characters made. But none of that ruins what is an effective, violent, and edgy thriller. This one will take you to the brink. Then, just when you’re sure the lead character and you have each had enough, Watkins piles it on to leave us with that grim taste in the mouth. Trust me. Eden Lake is a keeper, and if you can forgive a few blemishes this will really hit the spot if you’re looking for a horror-thriller to damage you.