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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Eden Lake: Blood, Depravity and a Competent Female Protagonist

By Paige MacGregor

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.


Sharon Day said...

Sounds like a classic portrayal of pack animals and their mentality. Chilling.

B-Sol said...

Actually, yes, that is a very apt description of the antagonists in this movie.

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

I haven't even read this yet, but just seeing the title of the post is making my blood boil. Competent? Really? Okay. I'll read it now. Expect a more detailed rant momentarily.

B-Sol said...

LOL Can't wait! Did you not find her to be a cut above the usual, stereotypical female horror victim? I sure did. One of the reasons I dug the film.

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

Okay, I have mentioned on this blog before that I effing hated this movie, and I have mentioned on this blog before that Jenny is the reason that I effing hated this movie, so let's get started.

Here is something Paige says that I find (in my case) to be absolutely false: "Audience members will find themselves rooting for her survival"

Jenny is an idiot. She is a complete idiot. When she is watching him get tortured in plain-fucking-view of the villains, I honestly believe that I decided at that moment that I wanted her to die, and I was from then on waiting for the moment when someone would fucking kill her.

Later (or earlier, I am not sure of the timeline as it has been a while since I have seen this), when Jenny escapes, she TAKES A FUCKING NAP IN THE WOODS! Okay, now I know someone out there in cyberspace is picking up a book and trying to prove that we would all fall asleep or something in extreme stress, but I don't want to fucking hear it, okay? That shit does not work in the movies. It doesn't fit our accepted mythologies. And it makes her look like a fucking idiot. And you know what? She is a fucking idiot.

Now, I very clearly say that this is *my* opinion, so please don't assume that I think everyone feels this way. I don't. I am, however, very aggressive about this opinion.

Also, even before any of this shit, I wasn't really on Jenny's side. She was played as childlike, and that shit don't fly with me. The best final girls are actual human beings. Paige rightly cites Laurie Strode in her article, and Laurie is not childlike, but she is likable. There is a big difference here. It's like the director/writer thought these two were interchangeable. And dude, they so aren't. You can't just put someone in a child's clothes and expect me to fucking feel for them. I fucking hate children, and I look forward to films that have the fucking guts to kill them, so obviously this filmmaker wasn't actually thinking about his audience.

In short, fuck this movie super hard.

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

And no, B-Sol, I don't see her as any different. She follows the same fucking formula that everyone else follows. Weak, weak, weak, find a weapon, weak still, use the weapon, lose the weapon, find another, gain your real strength. Blah blah blah.

Also, she's a fucking idiot.

B-Sol said...

HA, wow! You're quite passionate on this subject! Yes, I do recall the Eden Lake hate in previous comments. Interesting how certain movies can provoke such diametrically opposed viewpoints in different people. This is usually how I get when people try to tell me how incredibly amazing Avatar was...

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

Avatar, yes, I am remaining blissfully unaware on this matter. I choose to always be unaware, as I refuse to see this film; though, I do find myself angry that I can no longer use the word "avatar" without people thinking I am referencing that fucking film.

I don't have any interest in that film because it just smacks of "Whitey gone save us" shit. And I ain't up for that. And I have heard the entire plot, and it still suggests that to me. And I don't care that there is some evil corporation that is run by white people. The person who saves the natives is still a white dude. (Interestingly, when I typed that sentence, I typed "shite dude" before I typed "white dude." Maybe I should have kept it.)

I am so in rant mode.

B-Sol said...

I've wanted the proper outlet to vent my anti-Avatar vitriol, but seeing as it's not a horror movie, I haven't been able to do it, at least not here. Even though you haven't seen it, you're pretty much on the money as to one of the reasons it sucks. It's insulting, for one thing. I saw it with my son, who adored it. But he's five years old, what's everybody else's excuse?

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

This is why I keep that personal blog. It's like a repository for that kind of shit. I mean, really it has a purpose. It's a treatment diary, but you know, I can post shit like, "Boy, I miss Invader Zim" and "I wish I could eat Nutella for breakfast every day."

Actually none of this is totally accurate. It usually just ends up saying shit like, "Grawr. I am so mad I could light a kittens' face on fire."

Kelly said...

Back to Eden Lake...
I liked the movie. Sure, it has its faults, but I think it makes up for them in its grim atmosphere and in the ending of the movie. Once the kids show up, it's like the protagonists have entered an inescapable (due to their own stupidity and circumstances) hell. The ending confirms this when Jenny thinks she's escaped only to find herself right back into the heart of the evil. I liked its nihilism. But then again, I like that in movies...

B-Sol said...

That ending is such a gut-punch, isn't it?

BunBun4life said...

I agree with Missy, I can't believe that stupid bitch fell asleep and didn't leave to find help. I would have run 20 miles out of fear.

When that group showed up and screwed up their initial visit to that lake, I cannot BELIEVE they went back the next day ?? ;O No way would I do that...THEN
It REALLY pissed me off when the husband stabbed that dog then started to apologize, and was all 'oh no i'mm sorry' - FOR WHAT? Those slags were sicking a rott on him AND trying to STAB HIM!! He used their knife to stab the dog. I would have stabbed the nearest cunt immediately as well. Way to show a mob you're a weak victim. In the meantime as they jumped into their car and drove off like idiots, as though some people on foot would be able to catch them, therefore causing the crash that spelled their doom. I hated him very much by that time, and then her for being such an idiot. THEN I hated her for stabbing that one little blonde boy, who was just about to help her. Jeez could one couple make more stupid decisions???

However, by the end I DID want her to get away, especially after they killed that little boy via tire burning.
AND the final scene WAS A GUT PUNCH, B-Sol.
That ending just screwed my mind so bad, I saw this movie a year ago and for weeks I couldn't get that part out of my head...like having to re-imagine the end where cops come in and save her, or she made it to the police or something LMAO I mean I still randomly starting thinking about it, A YEAR LATER!!! It has been a year, and I can clearly remember all this stuff I am mentioning, so in that way it's a good movie - I mean sometimes I can't remember a movie a month later.

I really liked the violence, it was very suspenseful, but I did find myself hating the idiot couple, They did EVERYthing wrong; and the end was just made my stomach hurt. I would like to see some kind of sequel where they discover what happened and those gits get their just deserts.

B-Sol said...

BunBun, thanks so much for such an in-depth comment. Yes, no doubt about it--this movie brings up a lot of powerful emotions, and I think it makes us uncomfortable. That may turn people off a bit, but you can't deny that the movie gets us emotionally invested! Most movies never do to this degree, so on that level it's an impressive accomplishment. Better to have a movie piss you off than leave you indifferent.

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