Eden Lake (2008)

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*. Well. This was really no fun at all.
*. Of course it wasn’t meant to be fun. But I’m not sure if it was meant to be this unpleasant.
*. The set-up reminded me of Funny Games. These are not dead-teenager movies, where obnoxious kids are sliced and diced by a psycho slasher, but movies about the bourgeoisie being threatened by those same obnoxious kids. Where’s Jason when you need him to put the fear of God into these little shits?
*. I wonder if this is part of a natural maturation of the genre. Those kids who were frightened by slasher films in the 1980s are grown up and have jobs and families. Now they’re frightened of the amoral brats they used to be.
*. That’s one interpretation. There’s quite an angry political reading pursued in a book called Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones. “Chav” is a derogatory British term for someone young and lower class (both economically and culturally). The subtitle of Jones’s book tells you what he sees as really being afoot in the representation of chavs in the media, and Eden Lake is his Exhibit One. As I recall, he makes a pretty convincing case.
*. Obviously this is a movie that’s mad as hell about something. Hence its unpleasantness, and the fact that it is bending over backward to be so unpleasant. The way poor Jenny here just keeps jumping from the frying pan and into the fire goes well beyond belief, taking us into the realm of nightmare and fantasy. In other words, it’s a movie straining to make a rhetorical point.
*. I’ll get back to what that point might be, but now I’d like to say something by way of explanation of just why I found this movie so sickening. I think the best way to proceed is by saying what I didn’t find disturbing.
*. In the first place, I didn’t mind that the villains were kids. We’ve been here before: as long ago as Village of the Damned, and throughout the 1970s with cult flicks like Devil Times Five and Who Can Kill a Child? We’ve also known, at least since Freud, that kids really are little monsters. Brett (Jack O’Connell) is one of the single most repellent characters I have ever seen in a movie, and somehow he manages to get upstaged by his dad in that regard. But that’s not something I hold against Eden Lake.
*. Second: I wasn’t upset by the mindless cruelty. Or at least not that much. While it isn’t particularly gory, this is yet another entry in the depressing list of torture cinema. I don’t like seeing torture (and I’m strongly opposed to it under any circumstances), but there’s no denying the way it has taken hold of the popular imagination, and having scenes involving torture doesn’t necessarily make a movie unwatchable.
*. Third: I didn’t object to the dark ending. As with torture, this has become a staple of twenty-first century horror. I’ve written about this before in relation to films like Paranormal Activity and Sinister, but you can see it everywhere in the horror movies of this period. Think of Rec and Rec 2 or The Witch. Eden Lake is no different, and even its ending that pulls the rug out from under you recalls such pure genre flicks as The Descent: Part 2 and House of 1000 Corpses.
*. I don’t know why today’s horror films have adopted this nihilistic point of view. It’s sometimes said that such endings are more “realistic,” but this is rarely the case and is particularly far-fetched here. As already noted, it’s hard to believe Jenny would find herself delivered into the hands of the gang’s parents at the end of this film, and that they would turn out to be even worse than their kids, but I guess it’s what the age demanded.
*. Fourth: While I see the point Jones makes in Chavs, I didn’t mind the politics. OK, so this is a movie that fears and hates (or demonizes) the working class. As with the other items I’ve touched on in this list, that doesn’t disqualify it from being effective entertainment.
*. But having said all that, I have to now say that I honestly found this movie to be unwatchable. And if you follow this blog at all you know that I set the bar very, very low in this regard. I mean, it seems obvious that the pursuit of Jenny through the woods in her increasingly bedraggled state is meant to recall I Spit on Your Grave, which is usually considered to be one of the most deplorable movies ever made. But I found Eden Lake an even rougher and more dispiriting experience.
*. Why did it get under my skin? Two reasons, both relating to its realism. I know I said that the plot is unrealistic for its coincidences, and it’s close to being an idiot plot with all the rather bad decisions Jenny and Steve make, but in at least two respects it hit home, at least with me, as being authentic.
*. In the first place, there is the bullying. The movie pushes this to an extreme, but it gets it right. Brett is like Aguirre in the jungle, whipping his troops into line behind him. And like Aguirre, he exerts a kind of brutal charisma over them (I wrote more about this in my notes on Aguirre, the Wrath of God). The business with the loser kid Adam trying to suck up to Brett and then being necklaced is far-fetched, but it has a psychological accuracy. Of course, we’re not at all surprised that Brett’s father is physically abusive, because we know how this shit rolls downhill.
*. The second bit of realism that really bites is in the presentation of, yes, the working class. Kim Newman has something interesting to say about the differences between the yuppie couple and the chavs: “It’s not about economics, it’s about attitudes. A primary school teacher [Jenny] may have middle-class values, but Brett’s parents [he’s a contractor] have more money.” This might be mistaken. One suspects Jenny and Steve are from money, which has in turn shaped their attitudes. Brett’s family is not. There is a class difference, and while it’s true that the working class are being demonized here, their resentment rings true. We don’t like to dwell on it, but the fact is, a lot of the contractors and tradespeople who work on the homes of the upper class really do hate the people who own these homes.
*. The movie obviously loads the deck against the louts, but the quarry/lake is being gentrified (and gated) in a way that is of no benefit to them. That is to say, it’s being taken away from the townsfolk to make way for “yuppy cunts” (the graffiti on the back of the Eden Lake sign): the kind of people who will despise the locals. The main point being that the two classes cannot get along. Meanwhile, the parents of the little monsters are left to “take care of their own.” This is something they may be doing a miserable job of, but it’s all they have to take any pride in.
*. In short, while the movie is an exaggeration, I did feel, with more than a little painful regret, that I actually knew these people. I’ve known Bretts. Maybe not as violent, but psychopathic bullies none the less. I’ve known contractors who hate the people they work for, even to the point of openly talking about wanting to kill them or destroy their homes. So all of this rang uncomfortably true.
*. To give credit where it’s due, it’s also a well made movie. The performances are all quite good, with the kids even holding their own with the grown-ups. The tension is tightened professionally. The plot itself struck me as very stupid, but you can’t have everything.
*. It is, however, an almost unbearably nasty and depressing film, without a moment of humour or psychological relief. You really do have to wonder where we go from here. We’re getting to the point where today’s horror movies are about nothing so much as the hatred of life itself.

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