Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Another Brick in the Wall

Eden Lake (2008)
Directed by James Watkins
Starring: Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Jack O'Connell
Grade: C -

For you non-Brits, the topic of "What to do about our pesky teenagers, and their relaxed attitude to physical violence?" is a particularly hot one in the country right now. Eden Lake, a British production, spawns from such debate, and so the basic premise of the film is that a young couple, away for a romantic weekend, find themselves on the wrong end of a violent dispute with a gang of tearaway youths. You might think I reviewed this film a couple of weeks ago but no. While The Strangers was a classy crafted genre-gem, Eden Lake has much bigger things on its mind, and isn't afraid to let everyone know it.

It's quite obvious from the outset that Eden Lake knows exactly what it wants to say and won't stop until its said it. Car-radio debates about the problems of youth in today's society fill the eerie opening credits; a precursor to the violent events that unfold, and the film's desire to confront the issue in gung-ho mode is an admirable one. But Eden Lake's bandwagon-jumping often feels like the intrusive, impetuous commentary of filmmakers with passion but little understanding of how to build a convincing narrative around this passion. Indeed, the problem is that as such a politically-divisive piece, the film is first and foremost a social demonstration and secondarily a gritty thriller. Every eventuality (whether it be a chase, hiding place, violent sequence, stumble) feels like it's been copied from, and done better in, other films.

It isn't as if Eden Lake doesn't attempt to get inside its characters, or show us why they might do the things they do. There are thoughtful glimpses into, particularly, the most volatile and disturbed member of the young group. The character of Brett (outstandingly played by Jack O'Connell) is very much the leader of events, and attempting to display and allude to the reasons behind his anger and instability works for the film's message about young people and crime. But the reason Eden Lake gave me a major headache was the treatment of its would-be protagonists (couple Steve and Jenny), who act frankly rather stupidly at times, and on more than one occasion are responsible for orchestrating their own downfall. It feels as if the filmmakers are working from a couple of plot points -- incidentally based solely around the youths and delivering the message of the film -- and the rest is left to part-cliche, part-mess, in which we have no idea as to the scope of Eden Lake as a location and its endless, tiresome expanse of forestry.

It's difficult. I agree with a lot of what Eden Lake tries to say, and ultimately cannot fail to say. But when you have a small checklist and ninety minutes of running time to fill, things can easily become bogged down. Eden Lake is predictable after the first thirty, loses grip in the second thirty, and finally falls apart in a finale that's effective, haunting, and probably plausible, but by the time it comes around feels well on the way to its second dose of overkill.

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