What could possibly go wrong when Stephen Taylor takes his girlfriend Jenny for a romantic weekend camping trip to Eden Lake, a picturesque getaway of his childhood slated to become an expensive housing development? When the couple runs afoul of a group of delinquent teenagers and their vicious rottweiler Bonnie, the weekend getaway turns into a nightmare replete with blood, barbed wire and lots and lots of running.
Eden Lake is a 2008 British horror film that depicts the sadistic harassment endured by Stephen (Michael Fassbender) and Jenny (Kelly Reilly) at the hands of a gang of loud, vulgar teenagers. The harassment escalates until the teens leave for the night. Unfortunately, the end of the day does not mean the end of Jenny and Stephen’s suffering at the hands of the local teens—in fact, it is quite the opposite. The next day the couple’s troubles only increase, as the teenagers’ attacks escalate, becoming more and more violent and life-threatening.
Written by first-time director James Watkins (My Little Eye, Gone), Eden Lake is not a simple horror movie. As with many horror films, the gender relations depicted in Eden Lake are extremely interesting, ranging from a traditionally submissive teenage girl named Paige (played by Finn Atkins) who is loyal to the sociopathic ringleader of her group of “friends”, to the female horror victim Jenny, a debatable “final girl”, as the last woman left alive in a horror movie is often called.
Jenny is an interesting character. While she displays many of the infuriating characteristics of the stereotypical female horror movie victim, I would argue that she embodies a more competent version of this character type than traditionally present in the genre. (Whether that is necessitated by the fact that she is the only female protagonist is a debate for another time.)
We can look at both recent and classic examples of the female horror victim to explore this argument. Take Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode character in the original Halloween: although she displays traditional female victim characteristics like poor decision making, she also manages to evade Michael Myers and survive to the end of the film. Laurie Strode is a competent female horror victim--one who, despite her shortcomings, manages to stay alive to the end of the movie.
Although Jenny may not display the same degree of competency that Laurie does, she does have the wherewithal to evade the delinquent teenagers that are harassing her and her boyfriend, Steve, longer than Steve himself does. Audience members will find themselves rooting for her survival as the film goes on, despite her apparent inability to run through the woods without falling or puncturing one of her feet on a railroad spike. But what would a good horror movie be without some gratuitous violence that works to prevent the main victims from surviving their respective plights?
Eden Lake is not only memorable for its interesting characters, but also for the degree of (realistic) violence, and the apathy toward human life displayed by the teenagers depicted in the film. There are two scenes from this film that will forever be emblazoned in my mind because of how disturbing they were to me when I first watched the film. The first is when the teens of Eden Lake use Michael Fassbender’s character, Stephen, as an initiation tool, requiring each member of the group to stab or otherwise harm him while he is tied to a post with barbed wire. The most squeamish of the teenagers—and probably the youngest member of the group—is reluctant to participate, but under threat of death he sticks a box cutter into Stephen’s mouth and scrambles it about a bit before removing it. The scene is so expertly constructed that it manages to deeply disturb viewers without explicit use of blood or gore. I still shiver when I picture it in my mind.
Alternatively, it is the blood and gore of the second Eden Lake scene permanently imprinted upon my brain that makes it so memorable. I’m the type of viewer who “covers” her eyes in a horror movie when I expect a particularly gory scene, but I managed to avoid that habit when watching Eden Lake, perhaps out of disbelief at what I was seeing on the screen. After Jenny rescues Stephen and finds a relatively safe place to hide, she attempts to treat her boyfriend’s wounds in an effort to keep him from losing too much blood and passing out. The first glimpse of Stephen’s worst injury, a stab to the side of his lower abdomen, reveals clumps of black blood oozing out from a large perforation in the skin. Stephen insists on seeing the damage, despite Jenny’s protests, and when he realizes that he’s bleeding black blood, he comes to grips with the fact that he is probably dying. That image of Stephen’s bleeding, oozing wound is burned in my mind in part because of how realistic it looks, and in part because the wound is so much more severe than audiences might expect after watching Stephen's torture at the hands of the teens.
Overall, I highly recommend Eden Lake, especially to British horror film buffs. The relatively small cast delivers excellent performances, particularly the younger actors, and the film is anything but boring. The production value and special effects of Eden Lake are exquisite, rendering the violence and depravity depicted on the screen that much more effective.