Don’t be fooled. With a plotline that could have been inspired by any number of Daily Mail headlines, and circling comments about the graphic violence awaiting viewers in Eden Lake, it’s the kind of film that’s easy to write off as just another nasty little horror film in a genre that’s becoming crowded up with fresh examples. Yet, to its credit, there’s far more to Eden Lake than that, and while it’s not without a few problems, it’s far better than you may initially give it credit for.
It’s the story of young-ish couple Jenny and Steve, played by rising stars Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender, who – at the latter’s behest – head off for a peaceful and serene weekend away. Hence, they end up at Eden Lake, a place that’s soon going to be sold off for a housing development. But that’s not the biggest problem facing the pair, as, while relaxing by the water, they soon get disturbed by a bunch of teenagers, led by This Is England’s Thomas Turgoose, who Steve eventually decides to confront. This turns out to be a very bad plan.
What then follows is Steve and Jenny’s attempts to survive the attacks and attention of the gang of youths, replete with hoodies, mobile phones and no doubt a fair smattering of ABSOs. And yet, to writer-director James Watkins’ credit, they never become pantomime villains, as his script explores the fractures in the relationship in the gang of youths as much as it does the slightly snobby attitude of the film’s two lead characters.
But it’s Watkins the director who really excels at times here. He’s clever enough to follow the template of only showing what you need to, and when he does bring in a particularly grizzly scene, he holds his shots. Thus, the violence becomes more uncomfortable as a result, and not for exploitative reasons.
Watkins also proves himself a dab hand at ratcheting up tension, particular in the first half of the film, as Eden Lake follows a fairly conventional horror template, but decorates it with modern trappings.
There are a few problems, though. Watkins’ script is bold in its ending, but for this reviewer’s money, relied too much on a contrived coincidence to really make you buy it. In fact, the third act is arguably – one or two striking moments aside – the weakest part of the film. Furthermore, there’s an inconsistency in the technology. One minute a mobile phone works, but when it would prove genuinely useful to the lead characters, that’s when you can’t get a signal for love nor money. Surely that’s a little bit of cheating there?
Very much helping paper over that, though, are the performances. The gang of teenagers are believable and well-portrayed, but it’s particularly Kelly Reilly as Jenny that hooks you in. Her character doesn’t always do the obvious thing, but the performance behind it is strong, and arguably the grounding on which Eden Lake is built.
As for James Watkins, he should continue to be marked as one to watch, particularly for his direction. He’s already got a successful writing career, having penned My Little Eye, Gone, and the sequel to The Descent, but his understanding that sometimes a sound is far more unnerving than a visual, and his willingness to occasionally embrace silence over a thumping soundtrack, makes him a rarity behind the camera in his genre.
The Blu-ray presentation of the film is very sharp, particularly in some of the long shots, that radiate glistening detail. The audio is less obvious, and while it makes use of a broad soundstage, it does so quite sparingly, with primarily dialogue being centred around the front centre. There’s not too much else to say about it.
The extras are frustrating, though. What at first appears to be a bountiful list of interviews soon degenerates into different faces having to answer exactly the same questions in ways that will test anybody’s patience. A further Q&A with James Watkins is slightly better, but no match for a proper commentary. And then there’s a brief making of, which is perhaps the highlight of the extras package, but that’s, sadly, a bit of a back-handed compliment.
Still, the film at the very least has its merits, and at the least is worth a rental. Just don’t get too excited about anything in the extra features section.
The Film:The Disc:
20 January 2009