"I'm not going to be bullied away by a bunch of twelve year olds"
When Steve (Michael Fassbender) takes his girlfriend Jenny (Kelly Reilly) on a camping trip to a secluded lake with plans to propose to her, his plans for a perfect weekend quickly take a wrong turn, whe an encounter with a group of yobbish kids quickly escalates into violence leaving the couple fighting for their lives.
Most decent horror movies hold a mirror up to society, whether it's consumerism in George A. Romero's 'Dawn of the Dead' or foreign occupation in '28 Weeks Later'. But rather than hold up a mirrior, first time director James Watkins seemingly lets us look through a window to some of the blights of modern life in the UK, youth violence and knife crime. Here, violence is brutal, saveage and unflinching, but most importantly, it has consequences for the survivors not just the victims.
Although the set up is not far off that of many modern American horrors like 'Wrong Turn' or 'Hostel', Eden is about as far away from most modern american horrors as you can get. Interestingly, with it's emphasis on grit rather than spectacle, it's more reminiscent of classic american horrors like 'Deliverance' or 'Southern Comfort'. Forget the effects driven deaths we have all grown accustomed to with films like 'Final Destination' or 'Resident Evil' (fun as they are). Deaths are not something to be enjoyed in Eden Lake, death is prolonged, uncomfortable and messy. There is no monster or unspeakable evil, Steve and Jenny are confronted with something far more terrifying, children!
Shorn of their confidence once they realise the predicament they have gotten themselves into, the kids are revaled as scared and week. When faced with harsh choices, they can't sustatin the courage of their convictions, but instead like most kids, give into peer pressure. What had started out as a bit of fun to relieve the boredom, quickly escalates out of control into a situation from which they can only see one outcome. Steve and Jenny's rationalisation never stands a chance against their blind panic and unwillingness to face the consequences of their actions.
The real horror is not born out of the sight of kids with knives, but out of the realisation that given a similar situation, most of us would act (and probably have acted) in the same way. Who wouldn't tell a bunch of kids off for slashing for brazenly making a nuisance of themselves when most people are just trying to keep themselves to themselves? It's all to easy to imagine the same thing happening to us, and given the consequences, that's not an easy thing to accept. How should any sane person react to a bunch of kids attacking them? Much like the scenario the kids find themselves in, there are no easy answers.
The fact that Watkins has assembled a talented, but relatively unknown (but excellent) cast really works in the movies favor. Central to the casting are rising star Michael Fassbender (Hunger, Inglorious Basterds, 300) & the excellent Kelly Reilly. A highly respected stage, screen & TV actress in the UK, her character has the quietest arc and faces the most unpalatable of decisions. How does a teacher who loves kids, deal with the prospect of kids trying to kill her? The kids all deliver natural performances, particularly Thomas Turgoose (This is England, Somers Town), who despite being the best known of the kids is given the most understated role. It's this naturalism that makes you feel for and fear the kids at the same time.
If Werner Herzog made a horror movie, it would have been Eden Lake. It's raw, it real and at it's core it's about flawed individuals and the cruelty that we impose upon each other. Alarming, challenging & uncompromising, Eden Lake is modern european horror at it's finest. You won't watch a film like Eden Lake to enjoy it, it forces you to face the reality of modern society, it makes you think about it's ills and asks you to re-evaluate yourself. How many, modern films can you say that about?