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Eden Lake
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by William Goss

"Bully, Bully"
4 stars

The hoods in the woods are up to no good in James Watkins’ taut and tense directorial debut, 'Eden Lake', and neither is the young couple hoping to get away from it all – even if they don’t quite know it yet.

Jenny (Kelly Reilly, Mrs. Henderson Presents) and Steve (Michael Fassbender, 300) are off to a flooded quarry in the wilderness that’s on the brink of housing development. “Gated community? Who are they afraid of?” she asks. “Everyone!” he jokingly replies, and yet they themselves don't think twice about obeying their GPS system’s cheeky suggestion to ‘turn around’. Soon enough, their relaxing weekend – secretive marriage proposition and all – is interrupted by the local teen troublemakers, and an initial interaction over a loud boom box and a small beach only leads to more aggressive, increasingly violent confrontations.

Watkins opens his film with an innocent game of peek-a-boo before building up to an extended round of hide-and-seek, one that Them (Ils) might’ve been had it tipped its menace from the get-go, a thriller bearing no small resemblance to and roughly on par with the upset domestic bliss of The Strangers, the backwoods vacation nightmare of Deliverance, and the countryside territoriality of Straw Dogs. David Julyan’s score bears considerable comparison to his work on The Descent, from which Watkins evokes similar imagery; he’s been fittingly hired as writer and second unit director on that film’s sequel.

There’s no small share of bloodshed, but it should be said that there are nearly as many moments of relative restraint (as opposed to relief), and it’s this careful balance of elements that helps Eden Lake cover familiar genre ground in grueling, gripping, gruesome fashion. Running a lean 91 minutes, Watkins still has time to work up a slow burn, with the journey out of London involving a brief but strikingly hostile stay at a bed-and-breakfast, not to mention any number of talk shows on the radio addressing parental accountability of kids’ behavior. You can bet that this comes to bear once the lot in the woods – led by the stone-faced Jack O’Connell – see fit to give chase, and all of their lashing out stays just barely on this side of feasibility (including an equally smart-stupid move on their part to blackmail one another). As Fassbender’s emasculation before his girlfriend steadily, credibly progresses, Reilly proves herself to be a surprisingly capable heroine in the face of ordeal after ordeal, most of them involving sharp objects (which make the attacks that much more intimately unpleasant, as opposed to, say, one wielding a cold, relatively easy gun).

Watkins makes room for one last cruel twist of fate that lends an edge of exploitation to the film as a whole that, after some consideration, I’d rather live with than without. After all, when a filmmaker manages to cap off a good hour of solid distress with something even MORE uncomfortable, either that man deserves credit… or his upbringing does.

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originally posted: 11/04/08 00:55:08
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User Comments

1/21/14 mr.mike At times tough to watch but worth it. 4 stars
1/07/11 Kyle Oustanding horror film... 5 stars
9/25/09 Abhishek Chakraborty Starts off pretty ordinary, but becomes preety good in the 2nd original ending 4 stars
5/16/09 MP Bartley Powerful and well made, but so upsetting you'll never want to watch it twice. 4 stars
4/28/09 ES Excellent watch 4 stars
1/08/09 porfle Unbearably suspenseful and heartbreakingly depressing. 4 stars
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  31-Oct-2008 (R)
  DVD: 06-Jan-2009


  DVD: 06-Jan-2009

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