Eden Lake (2008) Review

Has the world gone mad?
Did I really watch the same film that Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called ‘the best British horror film in years: nasty, scary and tight as a drum’?
Do you ever watch a film and wonder if the version you saw was the same as the one everyone else saw?
Because that would be the only way to explain how different your opinion of it is. I do, and did after watching the much-lauded Eden Lake, which I had been looking forward to.

On the surface, the film looks promising, and interesting for its relationship to similar recent releases: Ils/Them (David Moreau and Xavier Palud, 2006) and The Strangers (Bryan Bertino, 2008), as reviewed previously by Zombie2.

Primary school teacher Jenny (Kelly Reilly) is taken on a romantic weekend to a flooded quarry
(on the point of being turned into a smart housing development) by her boyfriend Steve (Michael Fassbender), who plans to propose.
The weekend starts inauspiciously with their B&B being taken over by noisy drunken louts. But things seem to be looking up when they get to the lake, which lives up to Steve’s effusive descriptions.

However, the atmosphere doesn’t last long after some rough looking kids turn up, rottweiler and obnoxious ‘urban’ music in tow. Contrary to Jenny’s wishes Steve confronts the kids, who greet him with predictably loutish hostility.
The couple pass an uneventful night, despite lingering shots of their tent from between trees, but find their 4×4 with a flat tire in the morning. Unable to let it go, Steve manages to annoy the local café owner with his accusations, and in a bizarre sequence wanders into a house with the kids’ bikes outside it, only to be nearly caught by their father.
Later that afternoon, after more time spent by the lake, the couple discover their car keys (and other valuables) are missing, and find an empty space where the car used to be. Of course it’s the same kids who have stolen it, and Jenny and Steve are drawn into increasingly violent conflict with them.
Needless to say the situation escalates to a crescendo of brutality and mayhem that leaves few survivors.

So, is Eden Lake a clever state-of-the-nation commentary, articulating the divisions between generations within the slasher traditions of clashes between urban/rural folk? Even if it could be construed as such, the film’s attitude to its characters and subject matter is so outrageously and infuriatingly middle-class that it is almost unbearable to watch.
Forget about the bloody violence – of which there is plenty – it’s the class stereotyping that caused me the most wincing.

Firstly, Jenny and Steve are really stupid. Never mind the twee opening sequence of Jenny’s primary school class, the ubiquitous 4×4 and the oxygen tank (a whole diving kit brought to a flooded quarry outside of London?), their behaviour is the worst kind of dumb horror movie nonsense.
They are forever doing the thing that it is most stupid to, and that chiefly involves paying attention to a gang of rough looking teenagers in the first place.
I spent a great deal of the beginning part of the film thinking, just leave – there are plenty other places for you to go and propose. Their willful decisions to stand and watch, go the wrong way or to not cotton on to what is patently obvious, is irritating in the extreme.

Combined with this is the complete implausibility of the whole situation. Would a bunch of mal-adjusted but not necessarily sociopathic kids, if particularly upset with someone, actually keep them alive to torture rather than impulsively stab them to death on the spot? That things spiral out of control is not unreasonable, but the lengths gone to seem disproportionate to the way the group appears to work (and its size – keeping that many kids out overnight and motivated seems a little ridiculous).
This is not to say that the kids themselves aren’t scary and thoroughly believable in their own ways. The ringleader Brett (Jack O’Connell) is particularly powerful and disturbing, and as a result O’Connell’s performance is probably the best thing about the film.

By far and away the worst thing about the film is its relationship to class. The way in which the ‘nice’ middle class couple are pitted against such straightforwardly yobbish working class kids, and then their parents.
The film seems, rather than providing social commentary, to be solely concerned with articulating explicitly middle class fears. Indeed, the class issue is never so uncomfortably presented than in Jenny’s confrontation with adults of the community at the end of the film.
Whilst the hostility between couple and gang turned on generational as well as socio-economic distinction, once the situation is located in the parents’ repetition of their kids’ attitudes, the divisiveness of the portrayal of class is fully revealed. As such, their exchange seems so designed to pit the viewer against the repellent working class characters that the film ends on a shocking ideologically ambivalent and cringe-worthy note.
At least in certain American equivalents of such confrontations between urban bourgeoisie and rural rednecks there is usually some intimation of the consequences of the former’s development on the latter (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, 1974), or failing that, the hicks are so horrendously deformed or inbred that their otherness is not confined to class (Wrong Turn, 2003).

Eden Lake 2008 horror film

As a result of these issues of character plausibility and engagement, alongside the attitudes the viewer is seemingly being asked to take to the situations portrayed, I simply can’t understand the praise the film has received.
Eden Lake is most emphatically not the best British horror film in years (for one thing, can Neil Marshall’s The Descent be so easily forgotten?).
As much as I am personally scared by groups of teenage boys, knife crime and so on, simply activating those fears at the expense of thinking more deeply about how people behave or about how the genre can articulate tensions with great complexity is not good enough.

Movie Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 

(for Jack O’Connell)

Additional film information: Eden Lake (2008)

Trailer:

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