"Follow the blood!”
James Watkins’ feature directorial debut is an unsettling and gruesome one in which a young couple decides to escape the hectic city life for a romantic weekend at a remote lake side. The beautiful location will soon contrast with the horrors the couple will face as we get several early warning signs that things aren’t going to go exactly as they had planned. From the moment in which Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender) arrive at the town and are pulling up to a local restaurant another vehicle cuts in front of them and steals their parking space. The local people aren’t very friendly and there happens to be a group of young adolescents nearby led by Brett (Jack O’Connell) who act very disrespectful towards them. At first Steve and Jenny ignore them because they are here for a romantic and peaceful getaway, but after being provoked by these young kids he stands up to them. The kids are even more disrespectful and pretty soon things begin to escalate and brutal violence ensues.
The film reminded me a lot of Alexandre Aja’s High Tension for its gruesome violence, and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games for its dark depiction of human behavior. Eden Lake is also reminiscent of 70’s horror films. There are many brutal and unrelentless scenes that made me feel uncomfortable, but I have to admit that I cared for the characters’ wellbeing so I was engaged despite having to turn my face away during some of the torture scenes. The film is well paced and thrilling and the performances are pretty solid, but I can’t recommend it because it was just too violent and dark. Why even watch this movie then, you may ask? Because of Michael Fassbender who I could watch in absolutely anything. He is one of my favorite actors, and this was one of his early films, but it one of his weakest roles. This film came out the same year as Hunger and Fassbender got all the attention for his role in that movie, so I had overlooked this horror thriller. I was also surprised to find out that Jack O’Connell had a supporting role here considering what a breakthrough he has had in the last year. His performance here is so villainous that I want to go back and watch Unbroken just to see him suffer. There is something wrong about wanting these young kids to get what they deserve, but they are so hateful that audiences won’t be able to help it. Kelly Reilly has also made a name for herself, starring more recently in the second season of True Detective alongside Vince Vaughn, and here she plays the lead character. She surprisingly stole every scene she was in despite playing a character who made some very poor decisions.
As effective as Eden Lake is, I still can’t really make up my mind if I cared so much for these characters of for the actors. I was engaged because I wanted Fassbender to teach the kids a lesson, but I can’t say if the film would work without a well known and likable actor. This British film has inspired remakes of several similar themed movies which in turn probably inspired this one and opened the doors for their new versions, such as I Spit on Your Grave (1978,2010) and The Last House on the Left (1972,2010). Eden Lake may seem as pretty much a standard horror film that follows the basic genre formulas and cliches, but it does have a shocking finale. It is effective and accomplishes what it sets out to do, but since it is not my type of film I didn’t get much enjoyment out of it and it did bother me that some of the decisions made by the characters seemed to be so ridiculous that they can only be explained as serving the plot. It is a very upsetting film and fans of the genre would probably be very pleased with it.