Friday, October 23, 2015

31 Days of Horror- Day 23: Eden Lake (2008)

(dir. James Watkins)

The Weinstein Company

A school teacher and her boyfriend take a weekend getaway to the countryside where they are mercilessly taunted, chased, and tortured by a group of adolescent delinquents.

I’ve covered a lot of films this October that deal with couples encountering a number of horrors in the midst of their weekend retreats. It’s a formula that works well in terms of being used to both take the couple out of their familiar surroundings, and allow them to become aware of their unfamiliarity with each other and themselves. While all of these films (Honeymoon, Backcountry, Wrong Turn) have some themes in common, while offering a different set of rules and stakes, Eden Lake is the most emotionally draining of this set.

The romance of Jenny and Steve (Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender in one of his earliest film appearances) never feels false or like its hiding some secret resentment. While Steve’s desire to protect Jenny from a vicious group of teenagers does come partly from his need to preserve his own masculine ego, there’s never a sense that he’s willingly putting her in danger. This genuine, unselfish love established in the beginning makes what comes after all the more difficult. The film seems to take a rather feminist approach once Steve is gravely injured, that is until Eden Lake goes through lengths to show us that there are no heroes, no innocence and no power, at least not for adults.

Every time the film allows us to gain some margin of hopefulness for Jenny and Steve, the teens (led by a brutish Jack O’Connell) gain the upper hand, leading to one of the most shocking and stomach churning scenes in modern horror. Then, when you finally catch your breath and wipe your brow, the climax kicks into gear and things only get more hopeless after that before leaving you with the kick in the gut line “They’re just children.” Children, yes, but monsters as well.

Scare Factor: 5/5 Brutal in refusal to turn away from violence, heartbreaking in its romantic ruin, and disorienting in its exposure of humanity, Eden Lake is unshakably horrific. 

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