Eden Lake; an alternative view

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Right off the bat, I want to tell you that I used to really like this movie. I used to call it one of the decade’s finest, enthusiastically throwing adjectives like ‘brutal’ and ‘uncompromising’ at it. Then I did something that can really make or break a film; I rewatched it, and in doing so all but slaughtered a lot of these happy memories. Sure, Eden Lake is not a bad film per se. The tale of a modern couple going for a holiday in the Lake District, and getting terrorized by the local youths, has some definite plus points. The pacing is flawless. The acting is very accomplished (particularly from the young Jack O’Connell who plays the ruthless ringleader of the tormentors, Brett) and the violence stays intense and gritty throughout without ever feeling like it’s too forced or that the director is revelling in it. Besides, any film that can make you actively route for some adults in battling a bunch of kids is doing something interesting with audience identification, right?

Not necessarily, no. That depends entirely on the kids they are doing battle with. Eden Lake is a movie that is fuelled entirely by bigotry and class prejudice. As our lovely middle class couple (Fassbender and Reilly) reach their holiday destination – accompanied by a conveniently thematically relevant radio show – they are instantly confronted with the most feral and feckless of working class families imaginable. There’s arguing in the streets, people slapping their kids and uncivilised hollers aplenty. This dichotomy of the polite middle classes vs. the beastly underclass continues as they reach their spot by the lake only to have their moment of tranquillity ruined by some young, and ASBO happy, members of the working class. How unfortunate! Before too long these young rapscallions flash their bits at them, steal their car and then eventually take it in turns to torture them. And to think the perfect gentleman was preparing to propose as well! And if you think the kids are bad wait until you meet the parents; ignorant, unpleasant and highly abusive. The message is loud and clear: fear the working classes.

Now this complaint may sound like a double standard. After all, horror has always had a history of demonising poor people whether it’s the deep wilderness of Deliverance or the vast Australian outback of Wolf Creek. Hell, even the classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre taught us to fear those with less than us. True, but the difference is that none of those genre pieces extended such stereotyping to the entire community. Leather Face and co live in the middle of nowhere, or at least far from the beaten path. The makers of Eden Lake can’t claim such excuses, and so the dominant source of fear appears to be an entire class of person and not just a few members of said group. Sure, the teenagers don’t openly embrace torture as an option until after the honourable husband accidentally kills an out of control dog (coming from a working class environment it is, of course, highly vicious). But even prior to the dog killing they do attempt to run them over, laughing in the process. And besides, Brett’s murderous love for his dog is entirely undermined by a bit earlier where we are shown him and his gang torturing animals for fun. All of this could have at least been lessoned had the writers included a small cast of characters that go against the grain, but we see very few exceptions to the rule. And those few that we do see switch to full murder accomplice mode the second some pressure gets put on them. Surprise, surprise; reactionary right wing rag The Daily Mail said the vigour with which the youths hunt, knife and burn their victims is ‘worryingly authentic’. True, the film’s not quite Fight For Your Life (1977). But then it was made 31 years later.

I’d like to say that the offensive portrayal of working class communities is the only bad part about the writing, but unfortunately the script is so based on coincidence that it’s hard to take it seriously.Eden Lake is another horror where the ridiculously evil bad guys cross paths with the blandly perfect good guys all the time, despite the visibly acres of forest. Reilly finally sees a route out of this cesspit only to find out the driver is related to one of her pursuers. And the entire end sequence where she finds herself on someone’s couch is so fast paced that you almost forget how truly far fetched it is. That and the protagonists’ collective stupidity goes beyond the horror standard with the narrative being strung together by a collection of errors in their judgement. A particular highlight is Fassbender trespassing in to the home of Brett’s inhuman father, when nobody is around, and then proceeding to look around the family house for a while. It is one of those typical horror moments where the characters do something that nobody would do in real life just to suit the plot.

Yet despite all this criticism I am still giving the film 3 stars. The truth is that beneath all the classism and scripting convenience it’s definitely not a bad piece of cinema. The director Watkins shows that he’s come a long way since My Little Eye, offering an experience that is visceral and involving and is willing to defy the classic conventions of the genre (even if, in the case of the ending, this can also be to its detriment). Indeed, you could do a lot worse than visiting Eden Lake. Though if you do, don’t take your social conscience with you, and be sure to take a massive bag of salt to have with it.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

david.s.smith
About david.s.smith 281 Articles
Scottish horror fan who is simultaneously elitist and hates genre snobbery. Follow me on @horrorinatweet

10 Comments

  1. Yeah Cherry Tree Lane was a pretty bad example of blatant classism in Brit horror too. My memory may be foggy, because i haven’t seen it since it first came out, but does Cherry Tree Lane not have a predominantly black cast of villains who are partial to rape and also admit they can’t read?

  2. I did think Eden Lake was an effective and well made shocker. I had a similar debate with a member of the Glasgow horror group, Glasgore who revelled in the filmaker’s so called, ‘Daily Mail’ stance and attack on the easy target of working class Britain. Yes, the characters are exaggerated and some of the situations unplausible, but it is a horror film and fantasy. Sometimes situations have to be stretched to gain the desired dramatic effect. Are the standards set by the middle class groups not questioned in films like The Children and the far fetched but fun, Society? Horror films are designed to prey on our greatest fears and identifying the decay of society in the United Kingdom is an issue that is familiar with us all. One of the aspects I did think very strongly about in Eden Lake was the dismissal by the parents early on regards their children’s behaviour. They either don’t agree, or don’t care, that what the youths are doing is wrong. I think Eden Lake is a horror film first and foremost and therefore exaggerates and magnifies the ‘bad seeds’ in society to gain dramatic effect and impact. I enclose a link to my view on the movie https://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2010/10/eden-lake-2008/

  3. Tbh I never saw it as middle class against working class. I just saw it as decent people against scumbags. I think everyone in the UK has come into contact with scummy youths and their ‘couldn’t give a damn’ parents like in Eden Lake so for me, this film had a sad truth to it all.

    • I completely agree with your comment. I’ve seen similar parents treat their kids like rubbish (badmouth them, slap them, discourage them) i’ve seen it all. And for the scenario of the movie where deliquent kids terrorizes the couple, it is very very possible in real life, i myself have seen stories like this (of course not to an extent like the film portrayed like burning a kid alive amd such) but most of the scenes in the movie are very realistic.

      And also i never saw the film as anti-working class film. It’s just normal people vs scumbags that were treated harshly by the society.

  4. As poster Bat says, I agree. Sad film depicting not upper class but honest hardworking people and yob culture. The part when the yob spins the knife in the mouth just made me feel so sad for Steve, this realty happens but yet you can also see that the ring leader quite clearly would run a mile coming across someone tougher. Awful family which before you saw them you knew what they would be like. I just wanted Jason Statham to come in the picture and do his dirty work on them my theyd run a mile.

  5. Sweet Fanny Adams you Brits are way too politically correct. It’s honestly ridiculous- worthy of ridicule.

    First of all the other youths dont fold after “a little pressure”, they are either blackmailed with murder or their lives are directly threatened. Secondly we are clearly left with the impression that this is an extremely small town. What you call coincidence is actually a result of this fact. We are shown this when the waitress knows the children the couple is referring to at the beginning of the movie.
    Thirdly we are clearly being shown parallelism with regard to the gang leader and his underlings and the father of said gang leader who is also clearly an extreme bully and sociopath also surrounded by cowardly friends. The small tightly nit group of kids is a microcosm of the small tightly knit town. Probably mostly related to one another. This had nothing to do with bigotry or class prejudice. Those adults at the house party would have been seen as violent and dysfunctional by any decent person of any class.

    Those types of inbred violent hillbillies in Deliverance do exist btw, and it’s not just in Georgia. It’s just that in no way do they represent some majority.
    Well it’s the same thing with extreme white trash just as it’s the same thing with rich people. There are rich upper class who have covered up murder for their family members. This has actually happened many times.
    The movie happens to make the antagonist a lower class family BUT do not forget this is a lower class family with a huge gorgeous house, swimming pool and inflatable circus trampoline…etc
    Um, yeah something is obviously going on for a low class family to be able to afford that stuff.
    The father is obviously a criminal. Cops showing up would mean the entire family goes down. If the father was straight edged and truly believed his son they would have simply called the police.
    He is protecting his son just as he is protecting his own criminal activities.

    Ok some of this is obviously up for interpretation but here is what isn’t-

    The world is growing further and further apart due to things like tribalism and extreme political correctness.
    Folks find racism and prejudice under every rock and stone because it makes them feel good to “virtue signal”.

    You can believe that the screen writer was too stupid to realize he was being prejudiced in his writings or you can believe that he was deliberately being prejudiced.

    I’ll go with option C-
    Political correctness extremism on your part, and quite frankly, interpretations like yours do more harm then good to society. History will show this to be true.

    I would have liked an alternative ending.
    Life is grim and dreary enough without having every single horror movie nowadays end with bad guys winning.
    I get the concept of realism but in reality the good guys sometimes win too.
    The man was brutally tortured and murdered, why couldn’t this have been a revenge flic?
    Instead it left you feeling kind of nauseous like with Wolf Creek.

    Look around you, the reality is bad guys win way more often then good guys. Throw the good guys a bone every now and then.

    • Hello Nick

      Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to this. Being honest, this is a review I wouldn’t write tomorrow. Not because I disagree with the main point, which still bothers me, but because of the tone I took back then. Maybe it was inexperience on my part, but I use far too many absolute terms and make too many assumptions about the intention of the creator. 7 years later, I wouldn’t do either. Regarding the class element, I think a lot of my complaints would have been countered were both sets characterised better, or not juxtaposed by class. Since I don’t feel like they were, then it’s tough not to see a contrast between the nice well off, nice middle classes people from the big city (who could be the viewer), and those in small towns where the people are thick, aggressive and have shitty values. In the UK, particularly during the time of austerity when this came out, the deserving poor and strivers vs skivers were both popular social narratives – they very much still are today in the wake of Brexit. And the lack of nuance in the depiction bothered me. With your options, I doubt the director was doing anything malicious – I think he used the “chav” stereotype as a short hand for a group people are scared of, and didn’t really care about the political implications of doing so. I wouldn’t call this an extremist attitude on my part, and I certainly wouldn’t want to stop people being able to see Eden Lake. Though the characterisation did make me like it less than I otherwise would have. If you think this attitude is making society worse, fair enough. I think the same about spreading negative stereotypes. Though I do agree in full that tribalism is a problem, as alluded to in my review about the othering of working class communities in the UK.

      I also don’t think Brits are hugely politically correct. Though I do fear an American style culture war may be coming our way soon.

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