"The best British horror film in years: nasty, scary and tight as a drum. It is a violent ordeal nightmare that brutally withholds the longed-for redemptions and third-act revenges, offering only a nihilist scream and a vicious satirical twist in our perceived social wounds: knife-crime, gangs and the fear of a broken society." (The Guardian)Eden Lake is a serious achievement for new director James Watkins, and the high approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes is richly earned. Think Golding's Lord of the Flies crossed with Deliverance crossed with Them, and you begin to have a vague idea of what's in store for you. A couple go on a camping trip, and things are Edenic until they run afoul a pack of young bullies. Words are traded; one thing leads to another, and suddenly things spiral out of hand until torture and killing are on the menu, to the horror of even some of the kids who are in thrall to the lead bully. You would think a pair of adults could hold their own against a group of 12-year olds, but the chavs have enough numbers on their side, and their leader enough fury to match a demon out of Hades.
"Though nightmarish and visceral, it's the most intelligent horror film to have been made by a British director since Jack Clayton's The Innocents in 1960. And it fulfils the two purposes of horror: it involves you emotionally and it's frightening." (The Daily Mail)
Some critics say the film was partly intended as a social commentary on chav culture in the U.K. (in the same way Deliverance held up a mirror to that of American hillbillies), but in an interview (youtube) Watkins says it was pure coincidence that the film was released just as the issue became so heated in Britain last summer. He wrote the film three years ago as a "paranoid fantasy" more than anything else. It's eerie, however, that the story speaks so directly to the current chav phenomenon: youth delinquency involving knife crime, habitual foul language, and alienation from society. The dysfunctional parenting behind it is brilliantly realized in the film's final unspeakable act, which is what I respect most about Eden Lake. As you might guess from the first citation at the top, neither Steve nor Jenny come out of this alive. Just as we think Jenny might pull through when she's rescued by the townspeople, they ultimately decide to "look after their own" and finish what the kids started. Appropriately, it's the abusive father of the chief bully who decides to kill her (after sending sweet sonny to bed with a smack across the jaw and vulgar tongue-lashing). The film refuses to supply us with the cheap satisfaction of righteous payback, and that's hard to find these days in a horror film.
The film is definitely not for everyone -- the torture scenes are graphic and nasty -- and not since United 93 has a film made my gut hurt so much from watching terror and death fall on innocents I really come to care about. At points I wanted to turn off my DVD player. But that's how a good horror film is supposed to effect us. Eden Lake commands respect for making us think seriously about the relationship between adults and children in a murderous survivalist setting, and for an unrelenting honesty in its storytelling.
Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5.