Saturday, August 08, 2020 14:01

Eden Lake (2008) (Dir. James Watkins)

It’s taken me a bit of time to get around to watching Eden Lake – despite usually making an effort to support homegrown horror pretty early on. It seemed to receive a wide release, and so I suppose it never seemed like there would be a rush to track it down. But, finally, after doing just that, I watched the film last night.

Going back to my efforts to support the British horror industry…this felt like a peculiarly British film in many ways, loaded as it was with lots of British anxieties and issues. It plays well on familiar flashpoints in British society: the clannishness of certain families and estates to the exclusion of all other concerns; issues of class, and how middle-class expectations of behaviour might jar against the behaviour of  working-class (read: underclass) counterparts; the conflict between a ‘stiff upper lip’ which brooks no nonsense and ‘a quiet life’ which does anything possible to avoid conflict; the belief that certain groups of people have no concern for law and order; and, last but not least (and something which may feel alien to those in other countries) the distinct lack of space in Britain. I remember heading to a Neolithic burial mound deep within the island of Anglesey some years back; it was a reasonable drive through (what seemed like) deserted minor roads. When we arrived, lo and behold, sitting atop the burial mound was a gang of chavs drinking White Lightning cider. There is no escape from the good old British thug. I couldn’t help but think of comedian Bill Bailey’s description of the British: “as a nation we are infused with a subtle melancholy, leading to eccentricity, binge drinking and casual violence.”

In the film, Young Professional Couple Jennie (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender) are heading out for a weekend break to the now-named Eden Lake, a new development alongside an existing village (which will one day form part of an executive retreat with luxury flats, pretty much like every green space in this country). Steve plans to propose to Jennie on this break, but their idyll is soon spoiled by an encounter with a gang of teenage ne’er-do-wells, armed with a ghetto blaster playing drum and bass and the prerequisite Rottweiler.

Here comes the first conflict between keeping the peace and showing a bit of backbone. Steve soon cracks and asks the kids to turn the music down. He’s greeted, of course, with verbal abuse, and when the gang retreat they deposit a broken Smirnoff bottle behind his back wheel, which causes a puncture. Things then escalate, as Steve feels he oughtn’t back down, and when the gang return that night to steal his car, he finds them, demanding his keys back.

Knives are pulled (naturally) and the situation becomes an all-out war when Steve accidentally stabs the dog, which happens to belong to lead chav Brett (Jack O’Connell). Young Professional Couple tries to flee, pursued by the gang, and in the melée their car leaves the road. The gang now has the upper hand and they want their vengeance…

The film gets a firm handle, then, on many current concerns. The Eden Lake gang will be recognisable to many of us Brits – with the use of mobile phones to record incidents, the musical tastes, the pack behaviour and the knife-happy nastiness all familiar in some combination either from our own experience (if we’re unlucky) or from the incendiary newspaper articles which greet us every day.  It does all of this, but it falls down hard – and why?

Eden Lake becomes riddled with clichés. One or two could be forgiveable, but it’s soon mired in so many age-old horror clichés that all of the pertinent, fresh social realism is lost. I soon found myself more angry at the female lead than I was at the murderous gang; all my sympathy dissipated as one example of ‘I bet she’s going to…’ piled upon another. I’m aware that people do stupid things under extreme pressure. I am. But there is surely a variety of stupid things that people do, rather than the small range expressed in certain horror films.

I was also somewhat lost by the push-pull in the film which wanted to humanise the gang to an extent, but also to present them as amoral. I don’t know that I liked that the film gave Brett and his cronies any justification for pursuing Jennie and Steve, via the death of Brett’s dog. It just seemed unnecessary somehow. The horror of people like this is that they’re just shits – they don’t need to wait for just cause.

Anyway, having described what I feel were the film’s strong points, I’ll outline some of the things which absolutely lost me as an audience member.

  • Female lead: if you escape from a violent gang who you believe intend to kill your kidnapped spouse-to-be, don’t hide under a tree until it is light, slowly approach the gang in plain sight, watch your boyfriend being tortured, and then try to Bluetooth his mobile from yours.
  • Steve: don’t alert the gang to the whereabouts of your girlfriend, even if they do somehow miss her (see above), by yelling her name and looking in her direction.
  • When being chased, hiding in the only available structure might be a bad call. Have you not seen any horror films?
  • You will step on something fearfully sharp while you’re running, obviously, but be consistent on the whole ‘screeching and gasping’ when you put your foot to the ground. Don’t crawl for ten yards in agony and then go back to normal.
  • Be prepared for the fact that you WILL at some point be tied up – usually to a chair, but the point is that everyone in films seems to have the means to tie people up! Does everyone carry rope these days?

If a filmmaker could reverse some of these hackneyed motifs then I would be very happy. Of course, many do. In this case though, if it had been made more explicit that people act like shit without motive, and that people act in surprising ways both without repeating everyone else’s mistakes or fucking up in the exact same way as the people who made those mistakes, then the powerful positives of this film might have made it through intact. Gah, not every survivor of An Awful Incident gets to peer, bloodstained, into a shaft of light. In fact I’m sure many don’t.

Eden Lake has sound production values and the ability to tap into some uncomfortable modern anxieties, but it flounders by slipping into something more comfortable very early on. A more gutsy, more decently dark ending provides some redemption, and the film has much to its credit, but sadly it doesn’t quite deliver.


2 Responses to “Eden Lake (2008) (Dir. James Watkins)”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Pazuzu Iscariot, Hellbound_Heart. Hellbound_Heart said: Yep, I'm going to pimp my blog post on Eden Lake one more time… #EdenLake #horror [...]

  2. [...] Eden Lake (2008) (Dir. James Watkins) « Flowers of Flesh and Blood [...]

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