I’ve literally stepped out of the Eden Lake screening 10 minutes ago and instead of a relaxing train ride back to Brighton with my TV choice de jour, the blistering rage whirling around my brain is preventing me from any other distraction until I fully vent.
OK, so with an opening like that there’s little ambiguity as to the direction I’m about to head, but I just want to pull back for a second to make a few things clear, lest you believe this outburst comes from a place of anti-horror prudish disgust. I like horror films. I’m not adverse to violence or blood or terror. In fact whilst I wouldn’t call myself a horror aficionado, I do genuinely enjoy being petrified and subsequently running round the house flicking on lights and checking locks. So I’m always up for a good scare, especially when the premise relies on the fundamental fact that people are just plain wrong to each other whenever the opportunity arises.
My main problems with Eden Lake are twofold – the first is laced throughout the film itself and the second came after in the Q&A with writer/director James Watkins. Anyone who has watched even a handful of horror films, unless they’ve been astoundingly luckily in their viewing choices, has come across the cardinal sin that turns tension to exasperation – stupid characters. Characters who just don’t know when to pack up their shit and get the hell out. Protagonists Jenny (Kelly Reilly) & Steve (Michael Fassbender) are firmly in that camp. There are more than a couple of occasions when things are yet to escalate to their full grim potential that they blindly continue on their crash and (literally) burn course when anyone with the slightest modicum of sense would have chosen to leave and live to fight another day. With films such as [Rec] or The Descent (as a side note Watkins is the writer of The Descent: Part 2 which I admit I’m already unfairly pre-judging as a pointless cash in) it was starting to look like filmmakers had grasped the concept that your characters don’t have to be blind to the escalating situations around them to be placed in harms way. If I spend most of the film throwing my hands up, tutting or rolling my eyes then I’m not rooting for the leads to get out safe, I’m hoping they’ll end up as heads on pikes preferably sooner than later.
And it’s not just Jenny and Steve who are ineffectual, the hounding gang – with a completely wasted Thomas Turgoose as Cooper – seem to alternate from bloodthirsty psychos to a lacklustre gaggle trailing behind on a school cross country run whenever Watkins wants them to chase, but not yet catch Jenny – bikes versus running anyone? Even when they do catch her all it takes is a handy petrol can to create a wall of fire so immense she can skip off into the forest again ready for the next set piece. I really do have to apologise to the poor guy sat next me whose Eden Lake experience was punctuated by my barely contained outbursts.
Now whilst the film didn’t overly impress I think it was the Q&A session that really tipped me over the edge. I was perplexed that some of the largely press audience were praising Eden Lake as a shocking, tense thriller with underlying social commentary, but coupled with the fact that Watkins believes he’s somehow broken the horror mould made it all almost too much to bare. At one point a critic picked him up on his assertion that the film was crafted to highlight the moral ambiguity of Jenny’s attempts to defend herself by causing harm to the gang when she encounters Cooper alone, but to me the lingering scene was yet another misstep almost as egregious as the ill conceived proposal scene.
I realise there’s a certain amount of buzz around Eden Lake and early reviews have been fairly positive but I don’t care. Anything that infuriates me enough to actually write whilst frothing at the mouth can’t be good!
Update: ‘Edited’ highlights of the Q&A with James Watkins are now available.