Sunday, 21 September 2008

Eden Lake...reviewed at last!!

I know, I sue me. I crawled back in the wee small hours (hey, it was nearly midnight!) from my local movie emporium (Cineworld to you and me) having seen the latest British thriller-horror-I really don't know what it is
Eden Lake and bandied about promises of reviewing it here on this very blog the next day. And here I am, a mere seven days later, finally getting around to doing it. Oh well. What can I say? The roads to my blog are paved with good intentions and the best I can say is that I'll always get round to things eventually... Ahem.

So to Eden Lake - and really, even now, seven days on, it's a film which has still left a very firm - and frankly, rather disturbing - footprint on my cinematic consciousness. Written and directed by new boy James Watkins it's a movie which has slipped out without a lot of fanfare - which is such a shame as it really is something very special and very, very contemporary. On the surface it appears to be a film we've seen dozens of time before (well, if we watch a lot of modern horror films - which, I'm alarmed to discover, I do!); young couple wander off to ridiculously-isolated location - usually where they can't quite get a signal on their mobiles (how modern horror/thriller writers must loathe the ubiquity of the mobile) - for a spot of sunbathing and canoodling and, in the case of the scrawny Steve (Michbael Fassbender) a side-order of proposing-to-his-girlfriend. But things take a turn for the dodgy when a group of "feral kids" (copyright The Daily Mail) turn up on the same stretch of beach with their scary dog and start to antagonise the couple. But a bit of swearing and indecent exposure is just the start of it...and, trust me, you really won't like where it ends...

If you're new to the World of Stuff (welcome, please say hello!) I'm here to tell you that any film reviews won't be just recounting the plot and then saying "I really liked it" - that's no fun for you as a reader or me as a writer. I'd rather step back and look at a film as a piece of work - its style, its performances, its influences, its impact etc. Which is by way of saying I ain't going to tell you what happens at the end of Eden Lake or, for the matter, anywhere else in the film. Suffice to say that, having escaped from their first disturbing encounter with this group of kids things get worse and worse for Steven and Jenny (Kelly Reilly) especially when the kids steal their 4x4 and Steven decides to give them a stern talking to. One dead dog later (only spoiler, promise!) and it's all downhill from thereon...

So yes, we've seen "stuff" like this before - screaming teens running and hiding from something horrible chasing them through dark, crackling woods. But usually these films are populated by mutants, inbred redneck hicks, psycopaths, the odd alien. Eden Lake works - and is so bloody terrifying, if I'm honest - because the protaganists are kids. Just kids. Fifteen, sixteen - maybe younger, not much older. They're (hopefully) exaggerated versions of the sorts of kids we see lurking on street corners or bus stops, the sorts of kids we cross the road becausde we think they look a bit dodgy. Eden Lake is such a strong movie because there's the terrible fear that This Could Happen. I've a fairly pessimistic view of modern society (especially in the UK) and if you were to give me a soap box (please don't) I'd be up on it for hours. Eden Lake seems to manifest all those terrors we have about "kids today", the kids who have no parental role models, no respect for authority, no fear. These are the sorts of kids Eden Lake depicts and while I really, really hope there are no kids in Britain who could be capable of the atrocities this lot carry out, there's a terrible nagging fear that maybe this sort of thing isn't impossible, that it could happen to anyone if they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And atrocities isn't too strong a word. Almost from the first scene - Steven picks Jenny up from work for their weekend away at a country wilderness about to be redeveloped into a housing estate by the lake - there's a sense of dread, and not just because we vaguely know what the movie's about. We really want Steven and Jenny to walk away, to go home, to go for a meal or watch the TV instead of plunging into the middle-of-nowhere for a bit of grey-sky sunbathing. But they don't and we know they won't - and as their situation gets more and more hopeless the feeling of unease and discomfort becomes stronger. The kids, led by the manipulative Brett (a superbly dark performance by Jack O'Connell), put Steven and Jenny through what I can only describe as a living Hell and while some of the kids start to display a bit of conscience and reget, Brett is so black-hearted he's utterly driven by vengeance and pure hatred.

Eden Lake will shock you. It may appall you or repulse you. It will sicken you. Terrible things happen to innocent people - not just Jenny and Steven. You may think some of it is of their own making (the narrative puts them into situations you'd hope real rational people would avoid) but you'll come out of the cinema a bit wobbly - and I admit I was genuinely shaken - because of the fact that it isn't a horror film, it isn't some supernatural slasher. Watkins clearly wanted to make a film about real people in a real situation and while there are times the film asks oblique questions about why kids turn out this way it only suggests half-answers (it's the parents!). One week later the film's still on my mind and it's only now that distance from it can allow me to think that it's an extreme, that, despite all the terrible things we hear on the news every day about the casual way kids seem to treat life, something like this can never really happen. There really aren't any kids out there, however broken their homes, who could do this sort of thing.

Because we really can't let ourselves think there could be...because that would be far, far mnore horrifying than any horror film ever made.

Blimey....that were a bit grim! Apologies for the Sunday night downer but I just felt I had to at least try to express the effect Eden Lake had on me last week. If you've a weak stomach, keep well away but if you want to watch something that's far more shocking than it is entertaining, or if you just want to watch a well-made British movie, Eden Lake is worth your time and your money.

Coming soon: The Listening Post 3 - Back to the 80s!/A retrospective on the 1970s Survivors on the eve of the BBC's much-antipated 'reimagining'/BBC TV's new Saturday night romp Merlin/ Dr Who embarks on 'The Long Game'...

Comments and opinions always welcomed!

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