Thursday, 14 May 2015
Eden Lake (2008)
Being a deeply misanthropic bastard I've always enjoyed the genre of 'horror' films that depict people terrorising one another (films like Straw Dogs, Deliverance, The Backwoods, The Penthouse etc) primarily because they serve to reinforce and somewhat prove my belief that people are fuckers.
Eden Lake is just one of those films. A deeply unsettling and visceral picture that I imagine hasn't won any fans for the Midlands Tourist Board.
Jenny and Steve are a young, beautiful and metropolitan middle class couple from London who set out for a weekend break outdoors at a quarry's secluded woodland lake that Steve recalls from his childhood. Sweetly, Steve has a romantic aim: he wants to propose to Jenny, his primary school teacher girlfriend, over the weekend. Everything seems on course for being truly lovely.
But time has not stood still since Steve's last visit and his memory looks set to be destroyed by a proposed gated community redevelopment at the quarry, titled Eden Lake. The real-estate company have fenced off the lake thwarting their plans, but Steve insists they trespass - after all, what harm are they really doing?
That question is soon answered when their idyllic sunbathing session is disrupted by a gang of foul mouthed and aggressive youths complete with a ferocious rottweiler. Steve tries to ask the ringleader, Brett, to behave; to turn their music down, and keep the dog on a lead, but confrontation quickly and scarily plausibly escalates out of control.
Now, plausibility; whilst Eden Lake's series of provocations do play out startlingly authentically, there is nevertheless some suspension of disbelief required. There are moments of supreme silliness that do take you out of the film - such as Jenny deciding to stay until morning in the woods knowing Steve is likely to have been captured by the juvenile thugs instead of trying to find her way out of there like he begged her to do. There's also some business with Bluetooth and trying to dial 999 (or not, as the case may be) that went over the head of a Luddite like me. Equally the Leftie Guardian reader in me really baulks at the depiction of this Midlands, where working class residents think nothing of smacking their infant children full in the face and don't raise the alarm when a clearly distressed and abused young woman falls into their home. There's an attempt to (all too) provocatively suggest Broken Britain here but it does seem a little insulting to depict the usual tired scenario of big city holidaymakers aghast at their uncouth, socially irresponsible small town cousins. There are moments that make me squirm, and not in the way I imagine the film would like - it made me squirm because I could hear the Daily Fail readers agreeing the heck out of it.
And yet...this isn't just a demonisation of 'Chavs' that would happily serve as Tory propaganda against the working classes. There's actually a subtle yet refreshing approach from writer/director James Watkins that depicts his hero Steve, played by a just pre-big time Michael Fassbender, as a bit of a posing middle class dick and something of a hypocrite too given that he's trespassing just as much as the kids. And he trespasses not once (at Eden Lake itself) but twice, when he decides to let himself into what he believes to be the empty house of Brett, the gang's chief bully boy played by an equally pre-fame Jack O'Connell - a favourite of mine. Time and time again, Watkins nicely and subversively plays with our expectations and the notions of the good guy; Steve clearly feels his manliness is questioned when, having asked a woman at the local caff about the kids who have been causing them trouble, his query is met with a 'big bloke like you?' scoff. Equally when he does pitch up at the house in his flash 4x4, you're instantly placed on the backfoot to find how aggressive and in-the-wrong he now appears; striding into the house uninvited to challenge kids on crappy little BMX's - could these kids really be so much of a problem? As a result, you can't help but feel Steve brings a lot of what comes to pass upon himself, primarily by refusing to listen to Jenny, played with superb audience identification by Kelly Reilly, and in turn he places her in the most extreme danger too. It's perhaps that alone which makes Steve utterly irredeemable.
Ultimately the main thrust of Eden Lake is not I think the middle class v working class, townies v backwoods local people. It's perhaps more about youth v adults and what's more terrifying than the generation that will eventually usurp you?
Bleak, despairing and ruthlessly extreme right up until the last minute, Eden Lake benefits greatly from, in particular, a trio of strong central performances from Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender and Jack O'Connell. In support there's also Shane Meadows performers Thomas Turgoose and Finn Atkins. Be warned though, watching it feels being repeatedly punched in the guts. Its incredibly bold in its narrative and, whilst it struggles to be a likeable film by its very nature, you can't help but admire that boldness.