Eden Lake (2008)

Eden Lake: The horror film about lower-class teenage kids torturing and attempting to kill a couple of upper-class individuals who just want a nice vacation at a beautiful lake. I suppose that sounds like a fun use of your 90 minutes, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. It’s not fun at all. It’s brutal, really; a film that plays with your emotions and leaves your gut feeling like it has just been punched. Despite having many of your typical horror movie clichés, it stays away from a generic ending and also, for most of its running time, feels fresh.

The couple consists of a school teacher named Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and her boyfriend, Steve (Michael Fassbender). He’s been to this beach before, and believes it to be the perfect place to propose. After a few hours of leisure, some teenagers show up, blasting their music and allowing their dog to roam free. This is obviously a nuisance to the couple, so Steve, being the manly man that he is, tries to confront them. This fails, but after a rather uncomfortable conversation and some time later, the teenagers leave, and everything seems to be back to normal.

Little do these two people know that the next day will be the worst (and possibly last) of their lives. A glass bottle is placed under their car’s tire. The car is later stolen. Another confrontation occurs. The dog dies. Now it’s on: The teenagers want revenge, and the only way they’re going to get it is by killing both of these people. Here’s your horror film, children. Get it while it’s hot. And preferably during a day that won’t be ruined by a movie. Because that’s a possibility if you watch Eden Lake.

This is not a fun experience. It is awful for the couple, and while it’s not quite as bad for you, it’s still unpleasant. Many of the scenes are incredibly grizzly, and if you’re at all squeamish, you might have to turn away a few times as Eden Lake plays. There is one scene in particular, one of torture, that is so graphic that you wonder if showing absolutely everything is worth the audience wanting to stop watching. You can argue that this is the most effective way to do horror.

I’m not sure if Eden Lake is about class structures, but that’s what it seems like to me. The couple is upper-middle class, and seem to be entitled. They tell the locals to turn down their music and scram, and don’t treat anyone else with a lot of respect. The teenagers are all lower-class, and are standing up for themselves here. Thinking about it in this manner almost makes the teenagers, in a way, the heroes of the story, which is most certainly not how they’re presented on a non-theological level.

The way the film plays out makes us root for and care about Jenny and Steve. They are our protagonists, after all, and they’re giving the sympathetic moments. The teenagers, on the other hand, are (almost) all remorseless villains. They’re pure evil, perhaps using pent-up rage and taking it all out on these two people. Excessive? Sure. But understandable, I suppose, depending on how you look at it.

Mostly, this is a film where people chase after other people, and when the first group catches anyone from the second, bad things happen. It’s unpleasant, it sometimes hurts right in the feel-bads, and it’s very gory. It all leads up to an ending which is kind of surprising, but if you’ve seen enough of these kinds of films, you’ll see it coming. Still, it’s not your typical Hollywood ending — not that it’s a Hollywood production, anyway, being made in the UK — and at least feels somewhat fresh in the slew of happy-go-lucky conclusions to otherwise dark horror movies.

Kelly Reilly is more the lead than Michael Fassbender is. She gets a much larger amount of screen time, and acts far more like the hero. The film may not be an argument for female empowerment, but it certainly doesn’t have a weak female lead. There’s only one other major female role, which goes to Finn Atkins, playing one of the teenagers — the one who is tasked with filming the entire incident and nothing else, presumably because the leader, Brett (Jack O’Connell), doesn’t trust her to do it right.

Reilly is a good actor, and she’s strong here, having to play both scared and determined, obnoxious and threatened. All of the teenagers make you feel one thing: disgust. You will most definitely grow to hate them as Eden Lake progresses, especially after seeing some of the things they do to our lead characters, with little justifiable reason. If actors can make you feel this must disdain, they must be doing something right. Fassbender is reliable but unspectacular as the boyfriend, although his torture scene in almost unbearable.

Eden Lake is a brutal and effective horror movie, although it isn’t so much scary as it is unsettling due to its violence and general disdain for our lead characters. You get emotionally involved in it not because you like the protagonists, but because of how much you despise the villains. It’s not a lot of fun, and it’s a movie that could ruin a perfectly good day, but if you’re a horror fan looking for something a little bit different and definitely disturbing, it’s well worth watching.

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