One review of today’s Killtoberfest film, Lake Eden, called it “hopelessly nihilistic.” I don’t think that’s quite accurate. The film doesn’t suggest that everything is as terrible as the events it depicts; but it does put the lie to the idea that even a horror film should on some level be comforting. Even if our heroes are going to bite it in the end, we like to think that they deserved their fate, or made a crucial mistake, or should never have gone to a third world country/Indian burial ground/the South in the first place. It’s easier to feel safe that way. “I wouldn’t have taken my top off. I wouldn’t have gone up to the attic. If they’d called the police they would have been fine. And besides, things like that don’t happen in real life.”
Beginning as a weekend vacation for a young couple (Kelly Reily and Michael Fassbender) and ending in a gut-punch of sickening dread, Eden Lake argues that yes, sometimes things like that do. The movie is a more realistic take on territory explored in the Spanish horror movie Who Can Kill a Child?, where another vacationing couple happen across a small island where the children have, ala The Birds, turned inexplicably murderous. In Eden Lake, we get real psychological motivations for why a group of youths would become violent, from the leader’s psychopathy to the others’ pressure to be a part of the group to the way fear of getting caught for one crime can lead to a bigger one. What starts as a simple disagreement between Fassbender and the teens over the volume of the their music soon becomes a bloody, terrifying game of hide and go seek through the woods around the lake.
It’s a cruel film but not a sadistic one. It wants to make you feel despair, but it has a reason for doing so, and the dawning realization of the last scene is painful but also haunting and sad. At the end of it I felt dazed and hollow in a way I haven’t since the similarly bleak The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This doesn’t have that film’s stylistic attributes or its florid imagination, but what it does have is a naturalistic feel and a relentless narrative outlining a horrific series of events with strict plausibility. Things like this do happen in real life. But if you’re ever in that situation, Eden Lake has no advice to give. Better luck next time.
(Btw, the composer for this movie also did The Descent. I swear he reuses the same “It’s over” cue from that film here, only here it’s not over. Clever bastard.)