Eden Lake December 12, 2016
2008’s Eden Lake strives to be a nasty little thriller but proves to be just nasty — in store is not a roller coaster of adrenaline pumping but a sluggish ninety-minute taunter characterized by its general lacking of humanity and its deterministic unpleasantness. A survival “thriller” that resembles a less fun, more fatalistic version of The Most Dangerous Game (1932), the film stars the breathlessly committed Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender as a young couple terrorized by ruthless hoodies during what’s supposed to be a relaxing romantic getaway.
And that’s all the setup one needs if actually willing to sit through this downer of a horror show — for most of Eden Lake’s length do we find the duo in a battle of wits with savage adolescents led by a murderous teenager (Jack O’Connell) who brings an entirely new, and entirely frightening, dimension to the dangers of the mob mentality. None of the film’s fun, though: when your primary antagonists are angsty juveniles more or less acting villainous as a way to please an intimidating peer, we tend to feel for them rather than actively despise them.
What sort of film writer/director James Watkins wants Eden Lake to be is unclear. Does he desire to bring us callous quasi-slasher a la High Tension (2003), a frenetic survival of the fittest chiller akin to The Descent (2005), or an unfiltered exercise in barbarousness serving as a more watered down variant of Wolf Creek (2005)? An answer isn’t much necessary: point is is that nothing about Eden Lake is remotely appealing — never does a thrill overcome us, a scare crawl under our skin. Only experienced is disconcertion lined in fatigue. Even its gut-punch of an ending doesn’t rile up the terror Watkins is so obviously trying to evoke. In a movie wherein the sun never shines and wherein there’s no such thing as a right turn or a glimmer of hope, how could we expect less than disgusting misanthropy?
Kudos, then, to Reilly and Fassbender for portraying people in peril so effectively that we go through periods in which we decide that maybe the film’s worth suffering for as means to witness their exceptional performances. Likewise for O’Connell, the then-eighteen-year-old hellcat scarier than any Hitchcock villain if only because he’s easier to set off than a sensitive hand grenade. But even uniformly good work by a game ensemble can’t much stir me to say Eden Lake’s worth anything. Sure Watkins is adept at bringing alarm to the screen with dirt-covered grit. That doesn't mean I have to like the cinematic dish set out in front of me. C-