Unbeknownst to me when I decided to watch Eden Lake right after Ils (Them) are the similarities between the two. Sure, one is a pure home invasion flick, the latter. But consider the Prime Minister’s speech debated early on talk radio about troubled youth, who make up the antagonists in both films. And consider also the stark contrast in choosing how to depict the villain in each film. Both movies dabble in the idyllic retreat — Ils is set around a secluded mansion — being impinged on by unruly intruders. In Eden Lake, a billboard holds an obstructed, hostile proclamation, “Go home, yuppie cunts,” whereas in Ils the menace arrives unannounced, without forewarning. The yuppies in question are any such people as our protagonists who may infringe on one of the few and dwindling enclaves of refuge to be had alone in chav country. It is a harsh subtext the film inadvertently rides for the entirety of the film up to its troublesome finale. One arrived at irrespective of viewer sympathy for the protagonists. You may or may not feel for the lead couple. They commit a few errors that fly against common sense, for instance. And in the ensuing conflict they may have picked an avoidable fight. They surely brought some of that on themselves, but the politicization of their ordeal is what rubbed me the wrong way.
This political angle is infused by invoking the PM’s view in a seemingly random but not so subtle juxtaposition. Next also in what drags Eden Lake down is why must our divisions be enforced in such stark relief? It is what ultimately undermined the story, I’ve found. That and a slew of follies on the couple’s part. It concerns a couple’s weekend getaway from the city to a secluded lake weeks before its complete gentrification. Coupled with the unwholesome welcome written on the backside of a billboard advertising the property development, are the sentiments of local chavs — here I go again — that provide the film’s villainous impetus. Yes, it’s in the form of a gang of intimidating youth. But their discontent is certainly a long festering position. One that will quickly be exacerbated, escalating beyond repair.
So, where to start? A critique of this film can be summed up as the cop you pass at a car crash that’ll say: “Nothing to see here, move it along.” But a review is still a review, and thereupon must be finished. The first scene features Tony Blair’s initiative at helping England’s young and misunderstood. Or was it David Cameron’s tenure by then? I’m not certain. Who needs details? Especially when the film failed to tie the implication of that policy in to its commentary. The gist of the speech is reaching out to the troubled kids, their parents and community in the fight to save England’s youth. On the fence Eden Lake chooses to sit in this debate, because here the children are victims, and their parents, who are in the best position to serve as allies in the fight, are indifferent to the cause. This is evident from one caller’s take on the talk show, and echoed in the film’s finale except by then the writer has switched disposition. Maybe some kids aren’t victims after all. As the opening scene ends on that note, you’re left with the assumption of that quote being the prevalent and defeatist attitude one may resign oneself to. If the parents don’t care, why should we, (I’m assuming) educators, care? Because hey, aren’t those always thrown under the bus or on the frontlines when the battle is lost at home, precisely where it is won and lost?
Steve and Jenny. Neither is identified by a surname and for good reason, because when Steve goes to pick Jenny up from work, he opens a jewelry box holding a ring. Because in what movie is the audience not in on an impending proposal? Subtler ones! Before a mile is driven to the lake, it’s established that Jenny works with preschoolers (Ils has a similar scene in the school where the woman works right before scurrying off toward a romantic weekend with her lover). Steve, like most men contemplating when to pop the question, has to keep looking at the ring when Jenny’s offscreen or not looking. I guess it helps decide the moment to get on one knee. Nothing at all to do with exposition even though the ring will be discovered by Jenny. They drive off and it becomes obvious Steve not only has to keep up with the do’s and don’t’s of proposing and the use of surprise as a romantic element, Jenny’s not entirely floored by the prospect of a quarry by the lake being their destination. They pitch a tent, grab the coolers, get into some beachwear and Jenny slowly warms up to the place. Until the hoodies start making a ruckus nearby. Protagonist and Antagonist in one place.
Now, there wasn’t anything suggesting an exact sense of place or distance from the nearest road, but having arrived so swiftly to the showdown, a prolonged series of conflicts await us to fill the time. I wouldn’t honor this movie by saying retaliation is a common theme. It just involves.. a series of retaliations. Exactly how much time can you spend in an area so small, or so big, without backtracking will by default remain a weekend. The problem is I don’t want for minor inconsistencies to be so central in the conversation. Yet, Eden Lake suffers from too many to survive being pigeonholed standard fare in torture porn. Here we have a band of inconsiderate, outright hostile kids unrelenting in their territoriality and entitlement to public space. But at no point is the couple the wiser to so much as concede defeat, swallow some pride and pack up. Not even when, you’d think with Sunday looming, businesses closing and no food to carry them over the rest of the weekend in the bush, time is up on their retreat. And when Monday rolls around with the hunt in full swing, you mean to tell me no one bothered to look for Jenny and the truant kids once? Even for a long weekend I found the logistics of food trumping every priority. But Jenny decides to stay on and hopefully spring Steve free then escape but true to fashion for these genres is that, no, the show must go on. So no authorities are alerted, and jungle laws are left to rule instead.
There’s plenty of gore and a brief foray into feral brutality when Jenny seeks refuge in a compost container, emerging from it in a Phoenix-like transformation that all comes to a swift end when at the first sign of a return to civilization she breaks character to assume the victim role, at last. And what do you know, it is the same house Steve broke into to confront those kids’ parents about their behavior earlier. And that cunty waitress from the diner is there, too. We come full circle, to the talk show debate, I suppose, when one of the parents argues: “We take care of our own around here.” And by then the film takes on an even darker hue, and you’re left with the shady takeaway that some people are too savage to conform to any societal norms. Like calling the police. Or reserving judgment until all facts are in. It is the stuff of prejudice to leave so much to impulse. And this all coming from a family owning an ordinary, middle-class quality home! And Jenny, in spite of her previous stance playing the passive female suited only for courtship to her boyfriend’s prideful whims is finally deserving of our sympathy. But it took a harrowing fate to redeem her.
Sometimes rowdy, sometimes pouty.