Movie Review: Eden Lake (2008)


Hope. Survival. Retribution. Happy endings. Years ago, these were the standard outcomes in the horror genre. Nowadays, we jaded human beings like things a bit edgier — and more unpredictable. James Watkins’ new movie, Eden Lake keeps to this new tradition. A movie about a romantic weekend gone horribly awry, the film’s title is a cruel contradiction of what our ill-fated couple actually experience by the water’s edge. Hell Lake is more like it.

Naturally at this time of year, we get a bumper crop of horror films, and Eden Lake I’m happy to say is one of the more promising ones to come along — thank God too, as the horror genre has fared poorly this year. Now, mind you, the film is not based on an original idea. The filmmakers do tell us it is based on real events but that is the standard tagline appended to films these days which in many cases turns out not to be true, but no matter. It is not based on an original story either as it superficially resembles Ils (Them) and more closely Funny Games. But originality notwithstanding, Eden Lake is a lean, mean and genuinely nail-biting piece of filmmaking that literally has you perched on the edge of seat. And, it’s a film that sparks anger in the minds of the audience and a thirst for revenge against the bad guys. Director Watkins knows how to goad his audience.

Here’s the story. Nursery school teacher Jenny (played by Kelly Reilly) drives off with her boyfriend Steve (Michael Fassbender) for what they hope will be a romantic weekend at Eden Lake, the site of a new high-end housing development, one of Steve’s current projects as a developer. Unbeknownst to Jenny, Steve plans to propose to her — unfortunately, his timing couldn’t be more off. While sunbathing at the lakeshore, a group of local teenagers, lead by the menacing Brett (Jack O’Connell), intrude on their peace and quiet. A more prudent person would have simply gotten up and walked away. But not Steve. He is insistent on standing his ground and asserting his “rights”. “We were here first,” he reminds Jenny. Initially, the kids are merely obnoxious. But things turn ugly quickly when the teens steal the couples’ belongings and car. When Steve confronts Brett a fight breaks out, and in the melee, Steve accidentally kills Brett’s beloved dog. Whatever invisible barrier kept the teens’ instinctive lawlessness in check snaps. Now nothing stands between the couple and the teens’ boiling, unbridled rage. Brett and his gang pursue Steve and Jenny and subject them to unspeakable acts of violence and torture. Insanity reigns.

One of the things that makes Eden Lake so successful as a horror/thriller is that it thwarts the audience’s expectations at every turn. In the first thirty or so minutes of the film, there are numerous little set-ups where we, the audience, expect certain clich├ęd outcomes — but they never happen and things proceed onward. Instead of boring us, it has the effect of ratcheting up the suspense and the “what’s going to happen” factor as the tension from those set-ups is never released but rather continues to build. And even in the torture and pursuit scenes we are treated to some unexpected moments and outcomes.

Another powerful attribute of the film is that Eden Lake can be read on different levels; the subtext is fascinating. As we later learn, the teens aren’t outsiders, but members of the blue collar working community living around the lake who will no doubt be affected, if not displaced, by the high-end housing development being built and the eventual encroachment into their turf of a different group of people — the well-to-do, a group to which our hapless couple belongs. As Steve and Jenny venture deeper into the lake area, they travel farther and farther away from the reach of civilization with its checks and balances. They are out of their element and they forget that there is no law in the wilderness — only brute force and savagery. So beyond the basic storyline, the conflicts by the lake can be read as a clash between youth vs. adulthood, the middle class vs. the wealthy, the civilized vs. the savage, and progress vs. the status quo.

And let’s not forget the ensemble acting here, which I am both happy — and sad — to say is all too believable, so much so that it was hard to watch especially given the cruelty Steve and Jenny are subjected to. Several men in the audience I was in were shouting out loud so I know I wasn’t the only one experiencing the violence on a visceral level; that others were flinching and gasping just as I was.

Will Steve and Jenny overpower their tormentors and escape to safety? Watkins has you guessing, hoping and praying for the couple every terrifying inch of the way as one of them tries bravely to endure his captors’ gleeful punishments while the other evades them. One thing is for certain — you might want to rethink that camping trip you had planned for next weekend.

Critical Movie Critic Rating:
4 Star Rating: Good

4

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The Critical Movie Critics

I've been a fanatical movie buff since I was a little girl, thanks to my parents who encouraged my brother and I to watch anything and everything we wanted, even the stuff deemed inappropriate for minors. I work, write, and reside in San Francisco the city where I was born and bred.


'Movie Review: Eden Lake (2008)' have 7 comments

  1. The Critical Movie Critics

    November 2, 2008 @ 4:39 pm Morland

    Sounds like a good movie. Thanks for the review.

  2. The Critical Movie Critics

    November 20, 2008 @ 2:48 am Len Bourret

    “Eden Lake” (2008) – A film for those who rank ‘8, 9, or 10 (out of 10)’ for the use of anger and violence.

    This film seems to be rated by its use of extreme violence. Those who allow the violence–whether they object to it or not–seem to rank the film the highest with an 8, 9 or 10 out of 10. Yet, the film introduces a series of issues it never resolves: illegally entering an area that has been bought by a developer (an area that was formerly a public park), the use of a boom box playing extremely-loud rap music, a couple that is extremely-intimate in front of under-the-legal-age children, and a legal-age male engaging in labeling or name calling (I believe the stereotypical term ‘dick’ is used). An equally-horrific scene is the killing of the children’s dog. Whether the killing is an ‘accident’ or not, being being ‘sorry’ for the killing is not adequate.

    Two or more wrongs, on either party, do not make a right. Granted, it was not right for the children to puncture the tire on, or steal, the couple’s car. But, it is not right for the legal-age male to enter the children’s home without permission. There is plenty, in this film, to incite both sides–and, thus, ‘fuel the fire’ (anger) and engage in violence. Both parties, at various times in the film, are persecutors. And, at other times, they are victims.

    The rebellious children are at the age of defying authority. Couldn’t the adult female, a teacher, see that? It seems that at least one member of the couple should have been able see that trouble was ahead, and they should clear out. But, after the children puncture a tire on the couple’s car, they go back to Eden Lake for more–and further ‘fuel the fire’ of (anger) and the use of violence. The use of anger and violence–no matter on whose side–never solves a thing.

    Somehow, the film seems to side with the couple because they have ‘squatter’s rights’, but the under-legal-age children (who also engage in anger and violence) have no ‘rights’. The couple can be ‘intimate’ on private property, but the children cannot play (loud) ‘rap music’ on the same piece of private property.

    I am not saying that the under-legal-age children are right for what they do, in the film, but there is a legal matter of both parties entering private property. If either party had respected the private property, the anger and the violence (depicted in the film) wouldn’t have happened at all. By not respecting private property, both parties become persecutors and victims. As such, I can not find innocence on either side, and I rank this film a 1 out of 10. The children depicted in this film are ‘rebellious’, but the adults depicted in this film are ‘brainless’. I am tired of films that continually glorify lust, anger, violence, and the ‘gloom and doom’. Lust is not the same as sex, and sex is not a substitute for love. And, violence–even when shrouded in anger–is not a substitute for good acting, good direction, and a well-written script. This film justifies ‘the ends’ for ‘the means’, and ends up saying that the use of anger and violence is okay, if an immediate resolution cannot be found. Such a message is not only faulty, but is completely untrue.

  3. The Critical Movie Critics

    May 13, 2009 @ 7:51 am rach

    i am planning on watching this movie tonight and im really looking forward to it after reading reviews on line.

    Len people do trespass and commit crime in real life, you should try living where i live where teenagers are a total menace to anyone over their age group.

    I will leave a comment tomorrow letting you all know what i thought of this film as it sounds awesome
    x

  4. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 17, 2009 @ 8:18 pm Bex

    Oh get a life… it shit me up. It’s a scary movie… nobody payed attension to the bloody breaking and entering or the having sex infront of ‘under-legal-age’ if your in polotics… your sadly mistaken if anyone in this country actually cares… legal ages mean jack to anyone anymore…. look at most teenagers… everyone waits until they are 16 to have sex.. or 18 to smoke or drink…. NOPE. Anyhow.. it was pretty obvious that bret was on coke and poppers and the rest of them were on poppers….. and the girl had a stinking attitude… i hope if your kids are like that i never meet you. and if ANYONES kids are little angels and do everything the law says… i hope they are home tutored, because they will get the shit ripped out of them at school if they are brought up like this – unfortunatly thats the way the world is… hey even i got bullied at school…. :) laws are going down hill man CHILL OUT ITS A HORROR MOVIE :)

  5. The Critical Movie Critics

    January 7, 2010 @ 10:35 pm Ross Oltmanns

    I watched the movie. Some of the scenes I couldn’t take to watch. While it gave us the sense of realism in parallel to today’s society, I didn’t like the ending. I hate teenagers who menace society because they believe they can get away with it. Britain has quite a number of these despicable breeds. Take for example the killers of James Bulger. They were sent to Australia. The mother of James actually saw one of them in his 20s that time. An Indian student had been stabbed to death in Melbourne one week ago and a controversial priest here volunteered to give the killers safe passage because according to him they are just scared. What??? If you viciously kill someone, why would you be scared? It’s time we addressed this growing problem. Try vicious young criminals who commit heinous crimes as adults. They could change but mostly for the worse.

  6. The Critical Movie Critics

    February 10, 2010 @ 1:03 am maggie

    What waste of $4.99. I just saw this movie after seeing the trailer I thought it might look good. The acting was good and I was on the seat of my pants the whole movie – very suspenseful. I hated the ending and the fact that Steven was killed. Overall this was a terrible movie and it seems that the director and writer lack enough creativity to present an original ending and substituted violence instead of substance. Movies like this contribute to the growing problem of troubled youth in this day and age. Young kids will rent this movie, think it’s really cool and think they can get away with expressing and unleashing their anger towards animals, people, and women without consequences. It is a shame that our society has fallen to this low of renting and enjoying these type of movies.

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