Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on January 16th, 2009
“It’s not about monsters, or zombies, or vampires. It’s about kids.”
One of the horror trends going around involves the isolation of a young couple who find themselves suddenly terrified. The pursuer can be a creature or undead vengeful spirit, but more often than not the attacker is very much human. The location can be a desert or even a hotel room as it was in one of the better examples of the subgenre, Vacancy with Kate Beckinsale and Luke Fox. Many of these kinds of films have become far too predictable and, dare we say, boring. They rely totally on jump scene scares and a few gallons of gore. So, when Britain got into the act, I admit I was bracing myself for more of the same. Happily, Eden Lake is a standout film. Its quality took me totally by surprise, but everything about this film was pretty well done. Of course all of the cliché moments are there, but if you check out Eden Lake you’re in for an entertaining, if not disturbing, ride.
Steve (Fassbender) just wants to take his girl, Jenny (Reilly) on a romantic weekend. He plans to propose to her, and he thinks he’s chosen the ideal location. There was a park that bordered a quarry lake that he visited often as a kid. When they arrive, Steve discovers that it’s true what they say, that you can never go back home. The park is gone, and the quarry is going to be surrounded soon by executive housing in a development called Eden Lake. He finds a way through the woods to get to the lake anyway. They first encounter a young boy collecting insects. When they later witness a group of ruffians picking on the boy, they do nothing. Steve dismisses it as “boys being boys”. Well, that Karma lady, she’s a bitch. Eventually the bullies are bothering our young couple. The encounters continue to escalate. At first you don’t feel much sympathy for the couple; after all, they weren’t too concerned when someone else was the gang’s target. But my mom used to say that it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, or in this case a dog. Eventually the couple’s lives are threatened by the gang of youths. The result is a night of extreme terror for the young lovers. I think we can cancel that wedding hall.
Eden Lake fits together like pieces of a puzzle. If one is missing, it kind of ruins the whole thing. You start with a solid script. I’m usually very leery of writers who also direct. Usually the combination is the result of some egomaniacal idea that no one can see your vision the way that you can. Unfortunately, most of the time that also ends up including the audience. James Watkins is an exception to that rule. The script is a tight piece of work. Watkins doesn’t waste time on the page, and inevitably not on the screen either. The film has a deliberate pace that only slows for a reason. In Eden Lake, that reason is either to tell you something about the characters or to set you up for something big. The next few pieces have to be the cast. Here everyone does their job. I’m not talking Shakespearean performances here. I’m talking real, believable characters played very naturally by a talented cast. The Hooligans are as scary as any creature I’ve encountered on film. They look like any group of young thugs that you might encounter in any city or town. Michael Fassbender does an okay job as Steve, but the standout here is Kelly Reilly as Jenny. When you first meet her as a kindergarten teacher, she appears totally unassuming. The actress almost blends into the background for about two-thirds of the film. For an hour you’re going to be saying, “What’s the big deal?” By the hour mark you’re going to understand. She brings the character suddenly alive. These lone survivor girly parts are common, and it’s extremely difficult to add anything new to the role. Reilly does just that. Credit excellent direction and clever cinematography for giving her the environment to thrive in this role. The final piece is the film’s production. This film has a solid fell from the camera work to the editing. It’s a minor film that could have easily been a box office sleeper.
You should be warned that this film is a disturbing one to watch. There are torture scenes that look entirely too real. Because these are people and not some supernatural creature, it hits home a lot harder than you might be prepared for. While I wouldn’t consider this movie to belong to the current torture porn category, there are moments just as graphic and painful as you will find in anything of that nature.
Eden Lake is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is a pretty solid presentation. Black levels particularly stand out here. Granted, there appears to be some surface noise, and there are some rough moments of compression artifact. Still, there is plenty of detail to be found. Enough so that the torture scenes will appear quite realistic to you. The make-up f/x are some of the best I’ve seen. Now I don’t mean as far as guts and such. I’m talking realism here. Colors are usually dark, so nothing ever jumps out at you, but flesh tones and blood are pretty spot on.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track does everything it needs to. It isn’t all that aggressive, but once again attention is paid to realistic detail. Sounds appear to come from the directions they should be coming from. Dialog is clear. The music is mostly source with a few “score scare” moments. It all sounds pretty good. I have to admit I got so caught up in the film that I stopped paying much attention to what it looked and sounded like.
Only a 4 minute “Making Of” cast and crew synopsis.
Dimension has a rather hit and miss reputation, and Eden Lake is a hit. I often find that I just don’t get British cinema; that seems to be true particularly with comedy and horror. Eden Lake, however, is an easy enough film to “get”. It’s a visceral experience that plays to your most basic fears. I also learned that 999 is the UK equivalent to 911.After watching this one, you won’t be able to look at a 12 year old the same way again. Think you see a killer’s grin on that neighborhood tyke? Maybe. Or maybe “you’re just imagining it”.