Michael Fassbender as Steve
Kelly Reilly as Jenny
Jack O’Connell as Brett
Thomas Gill as Ricky
James Gandhi as Adam
Directed by James Watkins
For a well-written, beautifully shot, fast-paced horror thriller with great performances by all its players, Eden Lake is a chore to sit through. Although it is a competently constructed film that stands out as an important example of British horror, it remains a truly uncomfortable and unpleasant piece of filmmaking.
The story surrounds the weekend getaway of Steven and Jenny at Slapton Lake, an idyllic area that is to serve as the backdrop to Steven’s proposal. However, this being a horror movie, things don’t quite go as planned and a gang of youths enter the picture. Steven, not wanting his holiday to be ruined, asks them to turn their music down, thus triggering a terrifying chain of events that will in no doubt leave the viewer in a state of shock and despair.
What Watkins has done with Eden Lake is place the contemporary slasher film into the real world by replacing a masked Jason Voorhees-esque killer with a group of realistic children. These horrible kids are a force to be reckoned with and the credible performances of the child-actors give the film horrifying villains to rival any supernatural slasher film psycho of the last decade. Brett (Jack O’Connell) is the ring-leader of the gang and delivers an exceptionally ferocious performance that is sure to shock any audience; and while the rest of the gang is less fierce, they still demand a vicious screen presence.
It is not just the performances of the children that are spectacular, both Fassbender (Steven) and Reilly (Jenny) offer accomplished performances and provide characters with whom to empathize through their horrific ordeals. It is the performances of all of the characters that make this such a distressing watch, for had the actors been below average, the realistic nature of the film would have been lost and the impact would have subsequently been lessened.
However, there are a great many problems with this movie that stop it from being a top-grade piece; for example, the entire film could have been cut short had certain characters gone and fled for help before things got too serious. It was this sense of suspended disbelief that came across as slightly annoying with one particular moment involving a house near the beginning proving stupendously idiotic,
Taking a mainstream multiplex view of the film, it was also irritating to see the constant barrage of misfortune that befell the ‘good’ characters, thus defeating the point of a film as ‘entertainment’ as all shreds of excitement and pleasure are gradually stripped away to reveal a thoroughly unpleasant piece devoid of any favorable elements. Of course, Watkins intended for this film to be as shocking and nihilistic as it is, but for many (including me) it will seem just a little too downbeat for most tastes.
Also, as previously mentioned, Watkins has placed the contemporary slasher film in a modern, reality-grounded setting. It’s just unfortunate that he has also brought over the same clichÃ©s rife in that genre; as we have characters going upstairs when a villain is nearby, we are witness to a woman running through the forest and falling over while being chased, and we even have a POV stalking-shot complete with heavy breathing. All that’s missing is a non-starting car. It is lucky that this film is not a standard slasher otherwise it would have come across as mediocre at best, but the realistic setting and performances coupled with tight directing and a good script (minus its clichÃ©s) pull this particular effort from the mire of straight-to-video stalk/slash horror.
Many films will be drawn in comparison with this, with movies such as Deliverance and I Spit on Your Grave coming to mind, but Watkins said himself that he wanted to make sure that the film did not turn into some kind of crowd-pleasing vigilante revenge flick; he wanted it to have a message. It is for this reason that I believe many will find the grim, bleak and pessimistic nature of the film a little too hard to stomach, for even though it is certainly a powerful work, it is also an example of filmmaking at its most unpleasant.
Overall this is a very competent horror/thriller that serves as a wake-up call to an audience expecting a standard horror film. It will certainly stay in the minds of the audience and offers up enough questions to make it worth watching. You can forget entertainment value however, (if you want that, go and see the similar Manhunt) for this nasty, depressing and vicious film is certain not to please the majority of crowds.