31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #21 – Eden Lake (2008)

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Tagline: A Weekend by the Lake, with Views to Die For

Director: James Watkins

Writer(s): James Watkins

Studio: Optimum Releasing

Budget: $1.5m

Box Office: $3,983,997

Release Date: 12th September, 2008

IMDb Rating: 6.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Kelly Reilly – Jenny

Michael Fassbender – Steve

Tara Ellis – Abi

Jack O’Connell – Brett

Finn Atkins – Paige

Jumayn Hunter – Mark

Thomas Turgoose – Cooper

Trailer

Plot According to Google: During a romantic weekend getaway, a young couple confronts a gang of youths, and suffers brutal consequences.

Inertia’s Insight: The noughties was a tough time for the disenfranchised youth, with depictions of ‘chav culture’ rife with a rise in unemployment and the financial crash. David Cameron’s frankly pathetic attempt to ‘Hug A Hoodie’ only further served to distance the youth from society’s morals, causing scapegoats, an unnecessary fear of council estates and a subculture that seemed to be responsible for a fear of working class strife.

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In the wake of this, there came a slew of films that sought to explore and exploit the youth subculture of modern day Britain. Kidulthood (2006) kicked it off and started the wave of films including Shifty (2008), Harry Brown (2009) and Shank (2010). In the middle of all this was a small gem of a film that mastered the horror requirements whilst making a stark comment on the condition of Britain’s disenfranchised society at the time: Eden Lake.

School teacher Jenny and her partner Steve skip the city for the weekend in favour of a quiet camping break at an isolated countryside lake that is soon to be turned into luxury houses. Finding a quiet spot on the lake shore they set up camp but are soon disturbed by a group of youths drinking, smoking, swearing and playing music. Feeling the need to approach them after their dog begins to disturb Jenny, Steve sets off a chain of events that results in a bloody, gruesome and downright miserable finale.

At first just taunted by the youths with immature games, the ante is soon upped when their food supplies and car are vandalised. As Steve and Jenny drive through the town after breakfast heading back for the lake, they spot the bikes belonging to the group. Attempting to involve the parents, Steve finds himself entering the house in a strange and almost perverse kind of territorial marking but soon ends up scaling the roof to escape the youth’s Father. It’s an odd move from Steve with no discernible reason as to why he would enter the property, but it’s clever direction from Watkins enabling fluid movement and rising shadows to anticipate the cat-and-mouse game taking place.

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From here Jenny & Steve’s holiday takes a nosedive. Their car is stolen by the erratic Brett (a career-making performance by Jack O’Connell) and his misfit group of misguided youths. Steve is pushed to his limits, and in an altercation to get his car back, Brett’s dog is killed. Managing to escape, Steve & Jenny crash and Steve is injured. What they have to endure next is toe-curling and at times difficult to watch.

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And that’s the beauty of Watkins’ direction. The suggestion of what is happening is far more effective than what you see. Films like the Saw franchise fall foul of this upper hand, and though their genre might be of the ‘show it all’ ilk, they lose the impact of imagination. The scene in which Steve is tortured is brutal, and devastating in the peer pressure heaped upon Brett’s loyal followers. The scene with the Stanley knife is horrific but is perfectly executed – repeated viewings will highlight the genius of Watkins’ direction. You never actually see the damage inflicted or a Hostel-style close up of the knife cutting his tongue, but the insinuation and the sound are enough to incite those feelings of horror.

What follows is a Final Girl assault and stance for Jenny. Stepping into the role of survivor by watching her life partner tortured and brought to the brink of death, she must traverse mud and shit-infested bins to outwit and survive this lethal group. Kelly Reilly’s portrayal of the shattered Jenny is superb, the transformation from Primary school teacher to one-woman survivor is marred with pitfalls and devastation. The tipping point – for Jenny and Brett – is the burning scene, in which no-one can turn back from the horror that Brett has subjected them to.

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The burning scene is gruesome, again a perfect move by Watkins to suggest but not show the horrors that have unfolded in the woods. His true nature is now evident, and Jack O’Connell puts in a superb performance worthy of any horror mantle. The transformation of both Brett and Jenny as they come head-to-head makes for an intense final act. Jenny becomes as destructive as those she is fleeing from, and the scene with Thomas Turgoose’s reluctant Cooper is heartbreaking. Brett is falling apart as the implication of their actions catches up to him. And just as Jenny thinks she’s clear of it, the horror is only just beginning…

The ending is unrelentingly bleak. When I first watched I could only marvel at the brilliance of Watkins’ decision to end it the way he did, revealing Brett for the monster he is but also the shadow of the monster he lives in. It is such a British ending – downbeat and with no sense of closure or hope for any of the characters. Brett’s final scene is haunting, the culmination of a day’s events in which he has embraced the monster he was destined to become.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * *

Trivia

  • It was filmed at Black Park Lake in Buckinghamshire
  • Linked with the ‘Broken Britain’ theme and was cited by Owen Jones in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class
  • Remade twice in India as Mathil Mel Poonai (2013) and NH10 (2015)

Quotes

STEVE: I promise, the quarry’s fucking stunning.
JENNY: The quarry is stunning. No ‘fucking’.
STEVE: Please, Miss.

BRETT: Follow the blood.

All images courtesy of Google


Tomorrow: Night #22 – The Witch (2015)

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