19. Eden Lake: No Way Out
Unlike most of the films on the list, I didn’t like Eden Lake. It is not unusual for horrors to have unlikeable characters, bad dialogue and to be distasteful. But this film leaves a bad taste in my mouth for a whole other reason: It got good reviews. Words like: ‘gritty realism’ were being thrown around a lot. Which I feel says a lot about the average critic views British teenagers.
Having said that…Ok let’s start with the plot. A generic couple whose names I can’t remember go to the English countryside for a nice trip but their good time is ruined by some nasty youths who don’t even respect their elders or anything. One thing leads to another and suddenly the spotty little spunk stains are taking a Stanley knife to the face of acting misery guts Michael Fassbender.
‘No I will not do a comedy, stop asking’
Am I being unfair to the film by writing a synopsis that dismissive? Unsurprisingly, I don’t think so. The films thinks it is more clever than it is and yet it is like a million movies before it right down to a scene where Fassbender’s character goes to the house of one of the kids and when they don’t answer the door, breaks in instead. What a great idea! ‘What’s that noise?’ Says Girl in Bra. ‘Just the wind’ her horny Boyfriend replies. Great stuff. Oh and before they are savagely attacked he was going to propose to her. Never seen that before! Except for later that same evening when I watched home invasion film The Strangers. Seriously. I watched them the same night. Near identical films. And of course, in trying to defeat the evil ones our last one standing has to think like them…Gosh I seem to be nodding off…
I am not saying I don’t enjoy mindless violence. Mindless violence is great. You can quote me on that. But as I mentioned, the thing that people seemed to dig about Eden Lake was the portrayal of British teenagers as angry, vicious thugs ready to murder anyone who looks at them the wrong way. It seemed to give the film a ‘this could actually happen’ feel that helped it stand out from other examples of the genre, despite it being riddled with clichés and poor, poor writing.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHOY!
Take the scene I am going to talk about: One of the characters responds to news her child has been killed by shouting: ‘You slag!’ at the perpetrator. Really? I don’t even think Eastenders would attempt that. Then she weeps: ‘they’re just children!’ I see! Because the teenagers have been behaving a bit evil the whole way through but in the eyes of their parents they are actually innocents! I don’t think I can have another bite of that delicious dramatic irony. And then when another character reasonably points out the police will be arriving soon and so they better not fuck up the lead character, the angry man hisses: ‘We look after our own round here!’ Because sometimes, if we wish really hard, our characters will loudly state the theme for anyone who hasn’t got it yet.
While I am not sure how fair it is to assume that the people behind Eden Lake wanted to have a go at the hoodie wearing, BMX riding, Lord of the Flies mob mentality having crotch dumplings of the UK, it does feel a bit classist and it makes me uncomfortable as a result. The worst thing about this? It kind of worked. I was scared of them. My stomach dropped with every horrible deed. I am afraid of something like that happening to me or someone I love. Hell, it has on some occasions. Sometimes people are at the wrong place at the wrong time and they get hurt. Eden Lake takes that source of relatable pain and runs with the idea that none of us are safe from the children we can neither control nor understand…It turns the bogey man into the nutty teen next door.
At the time I watched this film, I was living in an area of the country where…well…Let’s just say I did not want to hang around long enough to watch the children in the Close become men. Watching Eden Lake in my bedroom as I listened to the sound of bottles breaking, cheerful abuse and angry threats going on outside the window, I realised I had made an error. I may as well have watched Final Destination as in flight entertainment. Eden Lake was my Jaws: I was afraid to go back in the water.
But the truth is, the reality of poverty stricken anti social youngsters in the UK is not adequately represented in the media. It is easier for the Government who regularly and routinely let them down to make them look like lost causes than to actually ask them what they are so pissed off about. So I guess that is why I don’t like Eden Lake. It plays off real fears that real people have about other real people without bothering to REALLY ask why we are so quick to turn our backs on people we don’t understand or feel uncomfortable looking at for too long. The victims are the nice middle class couple who tried to stand up to the heartless brats who would gut you for a pair of trainers. It is ‘brave’ enough to portray real honest to God brutal violence but does not go the whole hog and ask what could provoke this in young people, or indeed people.
It has a go though. And that is where the final scene comes in and nearly saves the film. Thanks to the aforementioned cringey script work, it didn’t quite succeed for me but, as was its main goal, it did shake me up and leave me breathless with horror.
So Jenny (I looked up her name, I didn’t remember it) has finally escaped the gang after killing two of them and stealing one of their vans. She crashes into a garden full of people and falls out, a complete bloodied and broken wreck. The shocked party lead her to the living room and try and ask her what happened but she is unable to speak. They agree to call her an ambulance and get her a cup of tea which is what British people do when a traumatised zombie show up on their doorstep cause that’s how we roll. The women flap around her trying to be helpful. Everyone is curious, concerned and kind of excited…Then one of the women gets a phonecall…as Jenny begins to cotton on to where she has ended up…As it dawns on her, it dawns on the viewer.
She is in the house of the gang leader, Brett. Oops. Watching her in the bathroom as it becomes clear she is completely screwed is just…so hard to look at. It is tense, worthy of vomit in fact, as the noise outside the bathroom suggests the group of adults have now been told a twisted version of what actually went down and Jenny is helpless to prevent the storm brewing on the other side. She doesn’t work too hard to escape. Exhausted and terrified she seems to instinctively know there is no way out despite arming herself with a razor and muttering an inscrutable mantra. As they scream at her to open the door, the last of her fighting spirit seems to evaporate.
Naturally the Parents of these kids are not to be reasoned with and we are left with the certainty that Jenny has met a horrible, horrible end…Brett is sent to his room after being hit in the face by his Dad, because of course they learn it from their parents, folks! He then deletes the video of Jenny’s Boyfriend being burned and puts on his stolen sunglasses in front of the mirror. He looks a bit lost and uncertain before practising his ‘I’m a hard man’ look, a look which shields his vulnerable heart, as his dark unfeeling eyes burn into our soul, daring us to just try standing up to the disenchanted children from disenchanted families from disenchanted areas in the beautiful idyllic countryside…Or something…
Leaving politics out of it, it is a great gloomy ending, a classic twist on the old inside the belly of the beast final cut where the mistakes and crimes of the protagonist come back to haunt her and to stomp out any hope that she will be able to survive the horrific incident that has already lost her everything. And for at least 24 hours it left me kind of afraid to go back outside.
The best horror films have a rich thematic and contextual history but that doesn’t mean every good example of the genre has to be fair, balanced or have a point worth making. Nevertheless Eden Lake’s depiction of Broken Britain is depressing, unfair, very much a part of the problem and not the solution and, more than that, just isn’t much fun to watch. Despite efforts from the actors to make something out of very little it still emerges a weak, nasty little project that bullies and berates you into fear and mistrust.
Also, don’t holiday in the English countryside.
Tomorrow…A Family film kicks off with the straight up murder of over 400 characters. Get ready for an awkward first date story with #18!