The Plot Hole in the Woods: ‘Eden Lake’ Review

Posted in The Screening Room by - October 27, 2016

What better way to round off the end of Horrotober than with one of the biggest genre cliches of all time: survival thriller in the woods. But hey, at least this one is helmed by a competent enough director (James Watkins) and stars Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly in leading roles. Good actors never do bad films, right?

Wrong, (and not because an aging Robert DeNiro argues otherwise) sometimes, it seems, good actors read things that look decent enough on paper and can’t imagine that some things won’t translate all too well to the screen. Because there’s no way in hell that this backwater, chav-starring, predominately single set, film festival submission had enough cash to convince Fassbender and Reilly to do the movie despite a terrible script. No, sir, these A-listers saw something in this movie that I, evidently, cannot.

Following a lovestruck Jenny (Reilly) and Steve (Fassbender) on their idyllic forest vacation, before the land is turned into commercial property, Eden Lake is an unambitious and often insulting attempt at slow-burn horror. If that wasn’t already enough, the film also sports a plethora of unpleasantly trope-driven decision making by its lead characters to boot.

Despite their first night’s stay in the forest being interrupted by a gang of BMX-riding, boisterous English teenagers and being explicitly threatened by a teen and his rottweiler, our not-stupid, not-having-a-history-for-poor-judgment leads still decide to spend another night in the forest they’ve been warned to leave. Good call.

What the film does well is developing an atmosphere of genuine horror. With the expansive woods and the darkness of night, Watkins permeates the air with a suitably creeping unease. Unfortunately, its greatest strength paves the way for the film’s subsequent faults. Namely, a dragging second act and an overly pessimistic finale. Entering the second half of the movie, the couple has decided to stay in the woods the second night, and as expected, are terrorized. However, after the opening shock value, the scenes of peril the characters lose their initial steam and crawl on at an unbearably slogging pace at which point the film closes out with a tremendously depressing statement on chav culture and simultaneously indicts the parents of the teens as responsible for their children’s damaged psyche. Whether you agree or disagree with the statement, it’s safe to say that there is no immense feeling of relief when the characters find a haven from their torturers. In this case, better still, I would’ve preferred an ending where the characters took revenge against their tormentors as so many survival horrors end up doing.

When you have A-listers who are famous not for their looks or idiosyncrasies, they tend to be great actors in anything they’re in. Despite the turgid nature of the film’s plot, Fassbender and Reilly deliver as always but unfortunately the two tragically attractive, immensely talented thespians cannot save the film from its snail-paced demise. While many can applaud Watkins for sticking to his guns and delivering his message through to the end, I see it simply as negativity for negativity’s sake. A vain attempt at crafting a profound statement on troubled youth that comes off instead as insulting and rude.

Final Verdict: Skip It

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When not drowning in school work or ignoring social obligations he enjoys watching movies on just about anything. Currently making his way through the cinema classics he hopes to one day write a novel, but he’ll probably end up playing The Witcher 3 instead.
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