Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released in the UK on September 12, 2008 and in the US on October 31, 2008
Directed by James Watkins
Written by James Watkins
Cast: Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Jack O’Connell, James Gandhi, Thomas Turgoose, Bronson Webb, Shaun Dooley, Finn Atkins, James Burrows, Tara Ellis, Thomas Gill, Jumayne Hunter
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a fan of revenge films. I don’t know what might’ve prompted this—perhaps a moment of vengeance I was subjected to in a Disney cartoon—but I definitely get a kick out of watching them, mainly because it shows the bad guys getting beat, which doesn’t always happen in the real world. My friend Tyson over at Head in a Vice recommended a revenge-themed horror film to me a while back, and it sounded like it was right up my alley. The film was Eden Lake, a British thriller whose elements of horror stemmed not from the usual monsters, ghosts, or zombies, but from a handful of unruly, antagonistic teens.
From the very start, it was clear who the good guys and bad guys were: a fun young couple, Jenny and Steve (Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender), whom you bonded with immediately, plan a getaway to the shores of a remote, woodsy lake, where they hope to spend a relaxing weekend together, and where Steve plans to ask Jenny to marry him. But their tranquility is soon disrupted by the arrival of a gang of boorish, irritating kids, who go out of their way to make trouble. Before long, these punks have gone off the deep end, resorting to theft, kidnapping, and torture before engaging Jenny in a cat-and-mouse chase through the woods, where she desperately fights for her life.
I’ll admit, I was really looking forward to where this story was headed…or at least, where I thought it was headed. First-time director James Watkins, who also wrote the screenplay, went above and beyond to make the young couple likeable and the punks repellent, as well as the atmosphere heavy and the tension locked on high. The actors contributed, too, with their realistic portrayals; Reilly and Fassbender were both great, and had me so fully invested in their characters, I couldn’t help but be worried sick about them, while on the other side of the coin, the rage and hatred that Jack O’Connell had me feeling towards his gang leader Brett was completely off the charts.
And that was one of the two problems I had with the film: for me, it was just too true-to-life to be fully enjoyed as escapism, which is why I watch movies in the first place. The true horror of this horror film was that the mentality of these senseless, dehumanized jerks wasn’t entirely fiction, and these deplorable situations and confrontations play out every day in the society we now live in. The question is, do I want to see these situations and confrontations on my movie screen? Sure…as long as at some point in the story, our ‘good guys’ seek retribution on their tormentors, and deliver some sort of satisfactory payback by film’s end.
But what happens when our heroes, our innocent victims and the good characters we’re pulling for, have no chance in hell of overcoming their obstacles and defeating their enemies? As I watched this film, I kept waiting for Jenny and Steve to turn the tables on their attackers, but I finally realized it was never going to be. And that was my second problem with Eden Lake: the bad guys win, and unfortunately I’ve been seeing this trend in too many movies over the past few years. Who wants the psychotic idiots of the world to come out on top, without even a hint of eventual punishment for their actions?
It never occurred to me that the scales would fail to tip in Jenny’s favor, and though her decisions weren’t always smart ones, she at least took them in the right direction. But at every damn turn, her efforts were crushed, and after a while I grew tired of the relentless hopelessness of it all, and eventually my heart and mind just gave up. And especially so once the movie arrived at its conclusion, which I admit was a good one, cinematically speaking, and took me quite by surprise because of its reversal of expectations. And perhaps director Watkins deserves some kudos for taking the chance with it that he did…but again, was it the ending I wanted to see, here or anywhere else? No, not at all.
In fact, the wrap-up left me so depressed, you can actually hear it in my voice at the end of the notes I narrated into my digital recorder during my viewing. It left me freaking depressed, and I’m not sure that’s what I want out of a movie I watch, whether it’s the filmmaker’s intention or not. And so that’s my dilemma with Eden Lake: do I recommend a film that’s well-made, is tense and at times exciting, and delivers a punch, or do I warn people away because of its troubling storyline and its characters’ complete lack of humanity? I just don’t know, which is why I’ll go neutral with my rating, and leave it up to you whether to watch or not to watch. (5/10)