Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Youth of Amer--er, England

Let's start with the obvious: Eden Lake is not Eden Log.

However, because they sounded the same and word on the Internet Super Highway was that one was good and one was not, I, being someone unable to tell similar things apart (don't even try to tell me the difference between Grimm and Once Upon a Time or Chicago Hope and ER; I refuse to care), never wanted to risk watching the one that was not good. There are enough well-enough-regarded horror films out there in the world that I can surrender one without trying.

Well, upon a little random internet investigation (aka, I read something somewhere and forgot where so I can't give credit where it might have been due), I learned that Eden LAKE (not Log) happens to involve violent teenagers. Teenagers CAN be grouped in the 'darned kids' category that I forever celebrate, particularly in this snow-covered month party of vertically challenged villains. 

So I figured, why not take a dip?

One more thing!

To add to the confusion, Eden LOG is directed by a man named Frank Vestiel, whose credits include being the assistand director on the French film Ils (aka Them), which just so happens to also be about punk kids tormenting a couple. Eden Lake, which is ABOUT punk kids tormenting a couple, is directed by James Watkins of The Woman In Black 

(which is not at all about punk kids tormenting a couple, but does have a lot of monkey dolls)

Got that?

Quick Plot: Steve (long-torsoed darling Michael Fassbender) is whisking his girlfriend Kelly away for a weekend with the aim of proposing. He's expecting to take her to the titular Eden Lake region for a peaceful swim and quaint pub dinners at warm bed and breakfasts. 

Instead, they find rude bartenders, thin motel walls, bad parking, and worst of all, lots of teenagers.

Here's the thing: teenagers are terrifying creatures. 

Not all of them. I'm sure there are plenty of ninth graders who would happily help an elderly lady cross the street without picking her pocket. Individual teenagers are typically just fine. But take that nice, non-pocket-picking fifteen-year-old and stick him with five of his peers, let's say just TWO of whom WOULD pick that pocket, and I guarantee he'll be emptying her savings account and eating every last one of her hard candies while throwing the wrappers on her floor. 

Peer pressure, man. 

Before you can start smoking like the cool kids, Steve and Jenny have caught the shifty eyes of a gaggle of bratty teens and their barking rottweiler. Ever the alpha male, Steve just can't seem to walk away from their antics, leading to slashed tires, stolen bags, stabbed dogs, and, you know, being hunted and tortured.

Looks like Steve should have gone the old fashioned route and just proposed via jumbo-tron, where nothing can possibly go wrong.

Eden Lake is a well-made and effective horror film, though not necessarily that special of one. Similar in both style and quality to the remake of The Last House On the Left, it gives us an easily identifiable situation laden with the kind of small choices that lead to an amped up cat-and-mouse hunt covered in blood, flames, and, well, poop.

This IS the same man who wrote The Descent 2: The Poopening, after all.

Made right in the midst of the early 21st century torture boom, Eden Lake doesn't shy away from its horrors, nor does it exploit them where unnecessary. We see the effects of violence more than the acts itself, and since the tools used all have some wear themselves (rusted barbed wire, all-purpose box cutters), that's horrifying enough. Yes, terrible things happen, but director Watkins is wise in where and when he chooses to pull the camera away, focusing more on a safe character's reactions to a boy screaming than the brutal act that kills him.

This isn't a 'light' film by any means: terrible things happen to the young and old, guilty and innocent. There's certainly a heavy dose of nihilism that may sour or enhance the experience, viewer taste dependent. The fact that Watkins followed this outing up with the very strong, very different The Woman In Black makes me even more intrigued to see how he'll develop in the genre.

High Points
Apparently, Eden Lake drew some criticism for being perceived as 'classist' in showing the lower working class as villains relishing in the torture of yuppies. I don't think that's its intent in any way, though I did feel one of the film's subtle strengths is how it suggests a sort of generational culture of abuse. It's not that the English poor are prone to violence, but that the parents (who we casually meet at different moments in the film) continue the cycle of either punishing their kids too harshly (as noted when we see a mother slap her young son in public at a restaurant) or ignoring the weight of their misbehavior (as the waitress brushes off Steve's comment with defensiveness rather than concern). Eden Lake isn't trying to provide answers as to how to stop this kind of attitude, but it poses the questions in a careful way.

Low Points
For the most part, Jenny and Steve don't make the kind of annoyingly dumb moves designed to make viewers roll their eyes, but occasionally, we're still forced to let out annoyed sighs (i.e., when wondering what one character did all night to remedy the situation)

Lessons Learned
Don't wear gold tops if you're planning on spilling blood on them

Never talk smack about a small town's youth to a local waitress. With the platter comes the power, as I always say between pointed thank yous and pleases

Arya Stark is a badass; a fifteen-year-old British teenager in modern times with an uncanny resemblance to Arya Stark is less badass, but far more terrifying

As far as modern horror goes, Eden Lake is good, if unexceptional. Ils (assistant directed by the guy who made Eden Log, not Eden Lake; did I mention how confusing that is?) is, in my opinion, a more unique telling of a similar story, but those who appreciate sharp modern horror, Michael Fassbender in pain, or the potential terror of a group of adolescents will certainly find something worthwhile in this one.

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