Those going into Eden Lake for the first time should take heed: it is not a film to take lightly. Expect one of the toughest horror films of the last decade.
Simplistically listed in many reviews as Straw Dogs with chavs, the analogy is not as unfair as you might think. Both films deal with the nature of violence and its repercussions, questioning whether meeting violence with violence is a necessary means when threatened or whether, in the end, it simply makes things worse. The difference between Straw Dogs and Eden Lake, however, is that Eden Lake has no shame in following typical genre conventions, complete with impossibly narrow escapes from danger and characters tripping mindlessly over fallen objects.
The thing is, the film deals with a very prominent and real threat in the form of a group of antisocial youths. The instigation of all the horror that follows is the simple act of politely asking them to turn their music down, something as innocuous as anything heard in the British press. How often have we heard the excuse ‘he just looked at me funny?’ and whilst, for a while, the kids have their ‘fun’, things quickly get out of hand until our protagonists (Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender respectively) are literally fleeing for their lives.
These kids we’ve all seen before, huddled in the streets of any shitty city, hanging outside the local McDonald’s. To walk past them is generally intimidating if by yourself and the film plays on that fear. From the off they’re a bunch of vicious little bastards only out to cause mischief, and, true to form (they’re stereotyped in the press for reason, lest we forget), when the tables turn on them, however briefly, their response is retribution on our heroes. This leads to one of the film’s most difficult scenes, in which Fassbender is captured and ruthlessly tortured under the watchful eye of the psychotic Brett, the group’s ringleader and only flat-out nutter. Making sure he implicates his friends, he films them all taking a slice and we, as an audience, are forced to watch. As does Reilly, who, unwilling to leave her fiancée behind, can only watch and wait from a distance. It’s gruelling.
What follows is an often unbearably tense game of cat and mouse where capture will most certainly lead to an unpleasant demise. What’s worse is that from an early stage it’s clear much of the violence will be visited upon children and this in itself is deeply problematic and makes for some seriously uncomfortable viewing. Apart from Brett, most of the kids realise they are in way over their heads and once they start dying there is suddenly a sense of sympathy for them. They are, in actual fact, just kids.
Brett, a boy who is completely aware of his actions, clearly doesn’t give a shit. He commits murder without remorse or mercy (including, in the film’s toughest scene, torching an innocent Indian kid) and, even upon establishing that his father is abusive and his home life rough, fails to redeem himself in any way. Watch as he deletes the evidence of his actions from his camera phone to avoid implication with a look of stone cold indifference.
Eden Lake is a film that is impossible to like and sets out, from the start, to challenge and abuse you. Unless you have a hide of steel, it will succeed admirably. Empire stated in their review; ‘you don’t watch it, you survive it’ and, surprisingly, the Daily Mail gave a full five stars calling it ‘the most socially relevant horror film in years’. Its ending is audacious in its flat-out refusal to relinquish its hold and delivers one of the harshest and bleakest endings of any film in years (beaten only by Frank Darabont’s The Mist in 2007). You will not want to watch it again for a very long time.
And all because Fassbender asked them to turn their sodding music down.