27 November 2010

Eden Lake

Eden Lake an Intriguing and Intelligent Horror Examination
By Kristin Battestella

Well, here we go again.  I picked up Eden Lake because Michael Fassbender is in, sure- but it’s also touted as a well-received independent horror gem.  Two birds with one stone, I say.

Nursery school teacher Jenny (Kelly Reilly) is unaware her boyfriend Steve (Fassbender) intends to pop the question during their romantic weekend.  Unlike some of their posh friends going off to Paris, Steve takes Jenny to Eden Lake, a picturesque flooded quarry and soon to be gated housing development.  Sadly, the trip gets off on the wrong foot when a local youth gang - Brett (Jack O’Connell), Mark (Jumayn Hunter), Ricky (Thomas Gill), Cooper (Thomas Turgoose), and Paige (Finn Atkins) - disrupts the beautiful beach setting with their ornery dog, loud music, and lewd behavior.  Steve confronts the group to no avail, and even follows them into town with a complaint after they spike his tires.  When the gang steals their car, Steve and Jenny again confront the kids- leading to escalating violence, extreme actions, and dire results.  

On one hand, it would seem dumb that adults can’t handle a handful of kids- why should they bother anyway? Writer and director John Watkins’ (The Woman in Black, The Descent 2) punks are bad news on top of bad decisions and debates about bad parenting.  I’ve seen several films about the growing violence, hoods, and youth rebellion in England.  Apparently, these stories aren’t that far from the truth, and that’s a scary notion in itself.  Sometimes we become so enthralled over our fictitious monsters, special effects, and paranormal phenomenon that we forget the contemporary horrors in our own society. Although there is some writing on the wall at the beginning of Eden Lake for a wise horror viewer (Remember your rules from Scream!), there’s enough interest, realistic surprises, and disturbing imagery to make up the difference here. Yes, some characters make dumb choices, but this isn’t a heroic tale.  Watkins keeps Eden Lake real through natural scenery and naturally flawed people. The story and characters are allowed the room needed to develop, building fine suspense and drama in first half hour.  The meat of the chase and the uncharacteristic but no less horrific violence keeps the intensity through the middle of the picture, and the gore presented is not at the expense of the plot at hand.  Rather than a traditional bloodfest with 20 naked teens getting sliced and diced, Watkins hold true for a wonderfully surprising final segment.  Imperfect people make mistakes and bad choices all around, but Eden Lake isn’t comical like the numerous franchise sequels that are inevitably all the same.   Instead of unintentional comedy, we have social subtext; a warning of what happens when we take life over the line to our raw, id, sociopath tendencies.  The viewer wants to see the victims survive and make it out alive, but once irrecoverable lines are crossed, hope certainly does dwindle!  Where does the vengeance begin and end here?  Whose wrath is more justifiable?  Eden Lake captures the vicious cycle without pretend monsters. It’s so refreshing to have some frank and smart cinema- especially when it circumvents the expected Hollywood ending.

Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes, Above Suspicion) is perfectly cast as Eden Lake’s  firm nursery teacher with a soft spot for the kids. Jenny knows how to handle tough stuff, yet she’s willing to let the little things go.  Her transformation from seemingly strung along girlfriend to physical action heroine happens realistically- with gritty dilemmas and a disturbing course of action.  The wise audience may expect the pretty blonde female lead to step up the hardcore badass- as seems to always be the case with horror movies with freaky kids.  However, the action comes a little late for Jenny and the plot doesn’t travel as we’d expect.  Reilly does not make Jenny a superhero.  Again, Eden Lake could have turned into a lot of cheap boob shots and flashy stupidity, but thankfully, Reilly keeps the desperate realism and flight or fight response effective. This is not a pretty role, and characters forced into an extreme situations can do very ugly things. 


Fallen Angel.  Spartan Warrior.  Bobby Sands.  Despite coming into Eden Lake with such a manly pedigree, Michael Fassbender plays a little bit of a wimp here. Steve has no problems so long as he has his badass SUV or fancy electronics; but he’s quite a prick, making hothead decisions to show off and cover up his true limp fish nature.  Make no mistake, Fassbender (Hex, 300, Hunger) looks the yuppie hottie with a cool voice to match, but Steve can’t even get up enough nerve to ask Jenny to marry him. He’s actually more interested in how cool of a proposal he can make.  She’ll say yes, trust me. Lady fans can certainly enjoy the first half of this film, with a boxers- only Fassy all wet in a tent by the lake or roaming around the bedroom strutting his stuff.  He seems to be having a lot of fun with the part initially, making plenty of charming facial and vocal exaggerations. I can’t seem to find any information on which was filmed first, but Fassbender appears kind of thin and older looking here, probably from his Hunger starvation experience. He’s still muscular and fun for the ladies, but he looks to be balding already-and there are consequences to Steve’s dreamy introduction, I warn you!  Stelios begs people, and seeing Fassbender roughed up by these kids is actually slightly amusing and even enjoyable because we can so easily believe his Steve is that much of a louse.  I’ve no doubt the wicked youths here are the villains of Eden Lake, but I’ve also hidden a spoileriffic case of examination for Steve’s culpability at the end of this review. 

 And let’s talk about those youths and all this hard core peer pressure!  Are these kids really sadists at heart or is this all a case of really bad parenting?  Why do they do it?  Jack O’Connell (Skins) does a superb job of giving us the basis of Brett’s wrath while also keeping the character askew with his true motivations unclear.  Was it really just ‘boys being boys’ in the beginning? Surely, things can’t have turned deadly over a dog and loud music.  Thomas Gill and Thomas Turgoose (This is England) are the weak links of the gang- their conflict over taking part and trying to be cool is also finely done.  How far did they intend to take all this?  If Brett wasn’t there, would the other kids behave differently? Was it Steve’s aggressive actions that pushed them to this?  The hints that this is retaliatory are there (again I discuss this below for anyone interested) but clearly the patterns within the gang already laid these sadistic behaviors in place.  Finn Atkins’ (Dangerville) Paige is the opposite of Jenny as the token girl of the group who does nothing but video tape it all.  It’s a nice juxtaposition-not just of the cute blonde Jenny and tomboy brunette Paige- but of their ages as well.  In a more stable environment, Paige could grow up to be successful like Jenny- but by the end of the film, is that a good thing? The only strike against the frank and scarily wonderful portrayal of the gang is the unfortunately stereotypical Jumayn Hunter (Cherry Tree Lane) and James Ghandi (Dani’s House) as impressionable wannabe Adam. Hunter’s character Mark is merely black and scary- striking the worst of the blows and yet I don’t even think he gets to speak! Poor Adam is bullied as the weak, nerdy Indian kid- perpetuating another stupid cultural divide. I find it sad if these elements are truly representative of youth class lines today.  Eden Lake is just rife full with wicked little tragedies of lost childhood and gruesome parentage!

Eden Lake also has its share of onscreen gore and the usual scares or two.  The Black Lake Park locations are wonderful as well, but the natural locales are subdued and realistic- along with some of the violence.  I don’t mean to sound contradictory- there is some hardcore bloody bits here- but what’s so disturbing is who is doing what to whom. Yowza!  The camerawork and lighting style feel like a natural part of the action- and only a completely silly note, it’s nice to see that the actor is actually driving the vehicle!  I’m not sure if I like the cell phone, GPS, and Bluetooth plot points here, but that’s the way it has to be nowadays in a contemporary horror picture.  This is also not really a dog friendly show at all, and ‘Bonnie’ the dog is definitely not a she; but these quibbles don’t interfere with the disbelief needed for the film.  On the contrary, Eden Lake quickly puts us in its picturesque but askew world and never lets us go. 

I was a little disappointed that the DVD set only boasts a short behind the scenes feature- a commentary from Watkins with more insights on his social horror angles would have been nice.  But I suppose we’re lucky to see such a disturbing British piece stateside at all.  There are streaming and rental options available, but anyone who has a tough time with thick, localized English accents should stick with the DVD’s subtitles.  Fans of the cast and quality independent horror will enjoy Eden Lake, though its upsetting storyline is not for kids or prudes.   Take in some eye candy and indulge your horror intelligentsia with Eden Lake.

On to the Nitty Gritty!

Please scroll past the screen captures for my finite and spoilerish theories on Eden Lake’s bigger picture and social examinations.  I couldn’t in good conscious reveal all in my review, but meticulous viewers with questions and ideas of their own maybe interested in this cerebral analysis. 

While there are no doubts these kids and their families are some twisted folk with a smorgasbord of budding violence and other latent issues, parts of Eden Lake suggest this final sociopathic act is almost entirely a result of Steve’s antagonism.  It’s an interesting spin that adds an intelligent layer of ambiguity to the film.

  1. Is there history on both sides? Steve has been to Eden Lake previously- he knew what a great place it was- and apparently, there were no gang problems in his prior visit.  Jenny says he was at the Bed and Breakfast Bar not that long ago with his drinking buddies; and Steve admits the place wasn’t as bad with his pals.  He seems to know where he’s going in town, but he can’t find his way in the dark. The rowdy folks and screaming little kids are there this time, and Steve wishes the kids would get smacked while mocking the ‘wife beater’ couple.   The Eden Lake sign at the entrance to the development also has some anti-yuppie graffiti on the back, obviously indicating someone in town is against the closing of the park and quarry in favor of a luxury development.  Was a protest against the up-scale plans dismissed for the cha-ching? Or were the townsfolk okay with the new construction until uppity folks like Steve and his pals came to the flooded quarry? What does Steve do and how did he know about this secluded venue anyway?  Was he in fact a part of the lake design?  When he asks what Jenny thinks of the lake view, she turns to him and tells him the ’50 executive homes’ are missing. Then again, Steven insists Eden Lake will always be Slapton Quarry- what was so special about this disused quarry for him?  

  1. Does Steve hate kids or have other unresolved issues? He seems irritated when they first encounter Adam in the woods- even frowns that he and Jenny aren’t really alone.  When Brett and Ricky destroy Adam’s experiments, Jenny wants to help but Steve says its ‘boys being boys’.  He doesn’t mind the mother smacking her son as Jenny does, and his joking manner of the youth violences and arguing couples perhaps implies he understands the family violence more than he lets on.  Which side of the boys will be boys bullying was he on as a child?  Did his mother smack him or his father abuse him as Brett’s drunken father does? Why does Jenny ask Steve if he’s a man or a mouse before the gang events even begin?  Later he protests they will not move from the beach because he and Jenny were there first, but they weren’t were they?  Does he want to prove his ego against these kids because they remind him of himself at that age? He thinks he’s cooler than he actually is with all his gadgets and has built himself up a seemingly secure world with Jenny- yet he hasn’t asked her to marry him yet, even after asking her father for permission. Steve just wants things his way-did he grow up in control-as Brett is of the gang-or controlled-like Brett is by his dad? Even after Bonnie is accidentally yet conveniently stabbed (It is very strange that big Steve can’t handle two kids and a knife), he uses the injury as an attempt at the upper hand.  Steve doesn’t offer that everyone go together to the vet, he pleads again that Brett give him the car keys and he will take the dog.  It is understandable the Brett wants some kind of vengeance at the death of his dog, but what seems to be the breaking point for Steve was the sight of Brett wearing his ‘Ray Ban Aviators!’ followed by Brett’s claim that they were actually fakes.  Clearly, Steve is not as well put together as he would have Jenny believe.

  1. Are there sexual undertones at play? When Steve is forced to say something to the gang after Bonnie’s second scare on Jenny, he doesn’t do a very good job- in fact, Paige’s accusation that he is looking at her chest shuts him up.  I don’t think Steve and his drunk buddies did anything to the kids on their prior visit- they were probably just assholes joyriding around town, convincing the locals they don’t want yuppie hot rods at Eden Lake.  However, Steve could have handled the conversation a lot better, and he shouldn’t have touched their radio!  Kids talk big, but talk is cheap.  We see two implied sex scenes and another make out session between Steve and Jenny in the first fifteen minutes of the movie.  What’s he trying to prove by all that action, naughty talk, and ab flexing? Was Steve trying to physically intimidate the gang with his good looks and hot girlfriend?  For all that, Steve is, for lack of a better term, impotent against the gang. He’s a grown man silenced by a young girl calling him a dickhead.  When the gang finally does leave, Brett insults Jenny by flashing his said dickhead at her.  Steve, though sitting up and wide awake but with ear buds on, doesn’t seem to notice this much more grievous (though not as potentially physically dangerous) insult than a scare from a dog.  When the gang has Jenny captured and Steve is dead, they could have raped her, but did not- we would have seen it if they had. Why can Brett flash a limp penis to Jenny but apparently not have his way with her?  Is his acting out really over some other manhood, latent sexuality, or molestation issue?  Brett checks outs Jenny’s chest and has boob posters in his bedroom, but it’s as if he hasn’t yet thought below a woman’s belly button- isn’t that unusual for his age? Why would Paige suggest Steve was casing her- was he?  Is she being sexually abused by the parents or the gang and automatically assume he must be thinking the same thing?  She objects to Brett’s looking at Jenny with the binoculars, but they don’t seem to be dating.  What hold do they have over her? Why is she allowed to merely video tape rather than cut Steve? Are all the males ‘impotent’ and trying to keep their women weaker to feel big?

  1. Why were the waitress and the bartender mean to Steve?  The waitress in the diner had no problem being kind to Steve and Jenny until he inquires about the kids.  She seems to be joking when asking if the kids ‘terrorized’ them; but when Steve mentions the tire, she becomes extremely defensive, forcing him to drop the topic.  Whether it’s his place to continue with the waitress, asking whose parents or kids he can talk about responsibility to is another point as well, but instead of talking to an adult like an adult, he’d rather chase the kids around town in his big SUV.  Likewise, rather than circle round to the bartender at the Bed and Breakfast, Steve has to swallow his pride while the bartender takes the order from Jenny.  Why won’t the bartender acknowledge Steve?  In the camera frame, the bartender has his back to him, seemingly never looking at Steve.  Does he recognize Steve’s voice enough to ignore it, perhaps from more bad brew from his previous visit with his friends?  Everyone seems to mind Steve’s presence, but not Jenny’s. 

  1. Did the gang know Steve had been in their house? I believe they did.  Steve steps on something in Brett’s bedroom, breaking it and hurting his foot.  He tries to hide the injury from Jenny when he changes into his scuba gear and deflects the entire line of her school teacher-esque questioning by throwing her in the water.  When the gang removes Steve from the car accident, it’s his left shoe- the same foot that was injured-that is seemingly lost in the scuffle.  Brett almost certainly fed whatever was broken by Steve to his parents, allowing him free reign to stay out that night and steal the car. The revelation that his foot was injured sealed his death warrant. The parents tell Jenny Steve is a ‘sick bastard’ once she is trapped in the house by them, so what kind of spin did the kids put on the tale-something sexual?  His going into the house was bad enough.  Why did he do it? At the time, we’re more concerned with Steve getting caught-but why didn’t he just go out the side door after Brett’s father came in and walked away, even closing the broken inner door?  It seems as if Steve knew the layout of the house- he was looking for the kids and went upstairs to Brett’s bedroom.  Had he been there before?  At the light when they first pull into town, the kids cut Steve off- did something like that happen in his prior visit?  Had he already cased this house?  What are the odds that Steve would happen to find the one house in town with their bikes outside it? Why did he need a new vehicle from someone else to go to the lake anyway?  Did something happen to his previous vehicle before or was it recognizable in town? Jenny drives the SUV when Steve escapes the house, does he always need to be taken home like a school boy after his escapades?

  1. Were the parents involved all along?  I think they did have more knowledge then they let on indeed.  After the first day on the beach, the kids could have told the parents about Steve’s ‘checking out Paige’, how he ‘followed them around town’ even ‘spied on them from inside the house!’  They probably let the kids go back for some of the nighttime sounds and stalking and would have thought the stealing of the car harmless.  Ricky’s brother knows he is out there and has come to pick him up.  He arrives in some sort of work van- not the same one as Brett’s father, implying he must also work and has not been around the home for these events.  Ricky’s brother is indeed worried that who’s ever after Jenny may also have harmed his brother.  The parents are initially more upset that Jenny has damaged the van and fence- until they receive a phone call about the kid’s deaths. We can tell Jenny goes through the same archway as Steve had, but the yard is now dressed with lights for the party.  A party is the easiest way to cover up someone’s whereabouts.  If the police ever do coming sniffing around, as far as everyone is concerned, their kids were at the shindig the entire time.  Evil Steve could have lured the now dead Paige and Cooper to the lake!  Steve also paused over the hole in the door at the house.  Was this memories for him, regular drunken behavior from Brett’s dad, or after hearing of Steve’s behavior did the Dad punch the door and allow the juvenile vengeance? One of the women in the house also asks Jenny if the ring is from her boyfriend, then another laughs on the phone that Jenny looks like death. Did the parents hope the kids had killed Steve?  Only when they find out their babies are dead do they take it to Jenny.  One parent does actually object that this has gone on far enough and the police will be around, but Brett’s father vows they take care of their own- bringing us back to the locals versus the yuppies. Steve has come around Eden Lake too many times and caused too many problems. Is his death their small way of ending the yuppie invasion?

  1. What does the ending mean?  I suspect Brett is pouting as he goes upstairs not because he regrets one damn thing, but because he’s upset he doesn’t get to finish Jenny off as he had hoped.  He’s angry that his abusive dad has punished him and taken away his toy.  He deletes the videos and is otherwise content with himself that they got what they deserved.  Yes, I believe he is a psycho, but he and his parents find his actions justified.   The woman who is initially kind to Jenny, tells her not to worry about the ‘scary men in the house’, already implying they have a hidden hand in the night’s events.  I don’t think Brett’s father raped Jenny, but the gentleman who had been getting it on in the bathroom before her arrival follows them in, along with the uncertain parent.  All three men seem to symbolize the types of men in the film.  Steve seems like he was going to be the go to hot hip guy like the younger man in the bathroom, but Steve was all no action-unlike this man who I suspect did assaulted Jenny.  The second guessing dad forced into the bathroom by Brett’s dad is symbolic of each of the men’s weak tendencies, and Brett’s father is the sociopath control freak who intimated everyone else because he can’t control himself.  Each is indicative to all of us.  We all make bad choices, serious mistakes, and end up doing things we don’t want to do or at best should have handled differently.  Even the seemingly cute naming of the dogs as ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ implies all parties are to blame; both sides of our piece have seriously defaulted and are all in this together. The movie’s frank ending may seems confusing to some or simply fresh compared to other horrors with one last scare, but it is actually quite ingenious.  Brett got away with it, and so do we.  We get away with being wimps with kinky gadgets, parents get away with abusing their kids everyday, and boys will always be boys, won’t they? Seeing Brett’s smirk in the mirror is a final reflection on us, the villain of life, not him the perceived villain of the piece.  Despite appearing as the seeming lead hero of the picture, Steve’s mocking tone in answer to Jenny’s questions about the gated construction sums up the film perfectly:

“Gated Community- Who are they so afraid of?”

Whew! Either I am a genius too or I just have too much frigging time on my hands and am completely full of shit.  What do you think? ;0)


Sujith said...

i like your review!

Kristin Battestella said...

Thanks Sujith! :)

Unknown said...

Awesome Review. Really makes you think.

Kristin Battestella said...

Thank you!!

Ruben Balinowsky Aguiar said...

This is the best review I have ever read