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Eden Lake (2008)
6th Jan 09
A couple's romantic weekend away takes an unexpected turn when they become prey for a group of savage teens.
What a year 2008 was for the British horror film. Mum & Dad revelled in its bleak end-of-runway nastiness while bloodthirsty toddlers went on the rampage in The Children. And we loved it. Next up is a successful exercise in white knuckled tension called Eden Lake, which turns attention to the topical subject of hooded teenage tearaways (that's chavs to you and me) in a country rife with a worrying lack of respect and a casual approach to the knife crime. The pertinence of the subject matter makes this experience all the more terrifying.
When schoolteacher Jenny and boyfriend Steve embark on a romantic weekend break, they could have done better than to choose the picturesque retreat of Eden Lake as their destination. A haven of natural beauty soon to become a construction site for a spanking new development, the area is also host to a small town whose inhabitants wouldn’t be out of place in Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs.
Following an initial altercation with an unpleasant bunch of youths on the shore of the remote lake, Jenny and Steve refuse to have their weekend ruined, and just as Steve is about to propose, their jeep is stolen, leaving them stranded in the reserve. Upon finding the thieving brats later that night, Steve demands his car keys back. A struggle ensues, a knife is brandished, and Steve accidentally stabs and kills the yobs’ vicious dog. Bizarrely, the leader of the pack, Brett, returns Steve’s keys in a moment of doggie grief, and the couple hasten off, soon to be hunted down by the chav ensemble. Let the chase begin.
Why Brett gave Steve his keys back is anyone’s guess, but the idea that he was simply overcome with grief didn't really wash with me. The guy he’s doing his best to intimidate has just killed his dog...so why did he then think, "Oh, I’d better give the murderer of my dog his car keys back, so that he can get away, or at least get a good head start…" Someone like Brett would surely take the same knife and return the stabbing in an instant. Another odd moment involved Steve arriving at Brett's house, where he just walks through the front door and around the house; how fucking stupid is that? The fact that Steve is American makes it even less likely - it's hardly commonplace to casually wander into a stranger's house in the States, so why the hell would he attempt to do that in the UK, especially given the fact that he's already been on the receiving end of local hostility?
Last but not least, halfway through a tense and gruelling scene in which Jenny is hiding behind the bushes, she decides to stand up abruptly before legging it, instead of creeping away quietly, thereby bringing herself a world of unwanted, bloodthirsty attention. Modern audiences are way too savvy to accept this as anything close to realistic.
Minor quibbles aside, Eden Lake is a thoroughly engaging and thrilling piece of cinema. The topical subject matter lends an added emotional punch, because we’ve all witnessed rowdy youths on the rampage, whether first hand or on the TV news, and writer/director James Watkins deftly takes this to another not entirely unrealistic level. The young actors bring a fair degree of authenticity to proceedings; Jack O’Donnell chills as the leader of the pack, ramming the worst kind of peer pressure down the throats of his misguided minions, demanding that they take turns to cut Steve in one of the film’s least palatable moments. It’s as dark and nasty as it sounds.
As violent and sordid as these proceedings are, there’s also a heart-wrenching pathos running throughout Eden Lake. Watkins’ nasty thugs are not always simple, two-dimensional villains, but (mostly) plausible humans who weren’t lucky enough to have benefitted from good parenting. Shane Meadow’s young protégé Thomas Turgoose is particularly memorable as the cautious Cooper, while the rest of the gang are convincingly falling apart inside as Brett leads them into the bowels of hell. Both Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender are pretty faultless as the adult leads, but I guess it’s impossible not to empathise with two normal people who find themselves on the wrong side of small-town England hospitality.
David Julyan’s soundtrack for Eden Lake is hugely vital to the overall effect. They say the secret to a great soundtrack is creating something which is barely noticeable at all, and while that may be true in some cases, it isn’t always applicable. Just ask John Carpenter. And his Casio keyboard. David Julyan (who also scored Momento and The Descent) is a key player in Eden Lake’s emotive rollercoaster, because it’s the kind of film that, if scored with a generic horror soundtrack, would be a completely different, less involving experience, whereas here his lush orchestral accompaniment pulls you right in, then spits you back out at the end, reduced to a mess of nerves and ready for an episode (or two) of Family Guy, just to reassure you that the world isn’t really this awful.
If Eden Lake was as well scripted as it was scored, or directed for that matter, it would be something truly special. The flaws here are more frustrating as a result, because the film succeeds in most other areas. Watkins’ direction is assured, everything looks fantastic, and there isn’t much in the way of gore being pushed in our faces. This is a horror/thriller for grown-ups (especially the ending, which may not sit well with less mature viewers), which manages to conjure moments of strange tenderness before chasing you, tying you up with barbed wire and then cutting you all over. Problem is, you’re hands are never tied up very well so you’ll probably manage to escape. Until you get caught again.
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