When is a slasher film not a slasher film? When it has the pretensions of being a "cautionary tale"? That’s the philosophy of young British filmmaker James Watkins, the man behind the impressively nasty Eden Lake. He’s been quoted that this tale of utter terror at the hands of knife-wielding unruly teens is a study of blame culture and a cautionary tale to adults not to get involved. What? So we’re supposed to let the little shits rule the streets? We’re meant to lock the door and pretend it’s not happening?
Unfortunately, it’s wannabe controversial soundbites like that that let Eden Lake down. Watkins seems determined to give the tale a level of importance it doesn’t really require. Kids with knives are a bad thing. We get it. Kids (and parents) from certain backgrounds are a strong argument for retrospective abortion. We get it. Sometimes good people are forced to do bad things. We get it. So we really don’t need to be spoonfed the glaringly obvious pointers that MODERN LIFE IS A BIT SHIT and AREN’T CHAVS AWFUL? The silly thing is, if Watkins hadn’t shoehorned these not-so-stunning revelations into the set-up, the film would probably have made more of an impact in the manner he desires.
The film is, essentially, The Hills Have ASBOs. A young couple, Jenny (a very committed Reilly) and Steve (Fassbender) are going for a quiet camping weekend at Eden Lake. It’s an old haunt of Steve’s and, before the developers move in and build a luxury waterside estate, he wants his girlfriend to see it. He also wants to propose but there’s a small hitch. Well, a group of small hitches, in fact: their idyllic retreat is being spoiled by a group of local teenagers (the impressive O’Connell, Turgoose, Gill, Hunter and Atkins) with a typically loud and utterly crap taste in music and an aggressive Rottweiler in tow. When a polite "can you keep the noise down, please?" intervention doesn’t work, Steve discovers the frustration of dealing with thick-as-pigshit obnoxious teens who run in packs. We should be allowed to taser the bastards or, indeed, cut their goolies off. Instead, we have to put up with their crap because the law is on their side.
Still, eventually the kids go, leaving Jenny and Steve alone and the little bastards are but a distant memory. Until Steve discovers — too late — that they’ve left a beer bottle under his car tyre. This is, of course, the point all normal people would go and find a nice, Chav-free hotel, quaff some champagne and propose in customary style. But not Steve, oh no. He wants to stay camping in Little Bastard Central and chill and swim and dive for, well, what? Bits of burned out car? Used condoms? Old Stanley knives? Anyway, the kids come back, they nick the car, there’s an altercation, Steve stabs the Rottweiler and then the kids take grim, bloody, drug-fuelled revenge.At this point, Watkins reveals himself to be a filmmaker of some talent. Yes, there ae-scenere holes a plenty — isn’t it amazing how in 400 acres of wood two supposedly intelligent people can’t hide from a handful of uneducated inbreds with no tracking skills? — but, as a straightforward stalk-and-slash themed bit of nastiness, Eden Lake is as good as anything to come out of the US for years. It’s tense, it’s bloody, it’s bleak and Watkins escalates the situation with some originality. By the time Jenny’s survival instincts kick in and she becomes an unwitting vigilante, there will be many a chewed knuckle in cinemas across the country. The message is obvious, but Watkins can’t resist a little more spoonfeeding en route to his impressively downbeat climax. It’s deeply annoying because with less time on the soapbox and more time on the script, he could have had a modern classic on his hands.
EXTRAS *½ A poor effort for a Blu-ray release — just cast and crew interviews, a Q&A with director Watkins, TV ads, a behind-the-scenes feraturette and two versions of the trailer.