Director James Watkins survival thriller is one part mediocre social commentary, two parts solid thriller, and one part moronic drama. “Eden Lake” seems to want to be it all, offering characters that simply can’t let their confrontation with rowdy teens go, all the while hinting at the complexities of dysfunctional violent home and how they breed violence within their confines. But much of that is destroyed when Watkins seeks to turn his juvenile villains in to scowling black and white monsters motivated on violence and violence only. There aren’t any shades of grey to them until the very end, and by then the movie has become so ludicrous it’s hard to soak in the thoughts on the vicious cycle of violence.
While Watkins’ horror thriller tends to be an interesting survival film, “Eden Lake” also takes stabs at being something of a character study. And in the beginning we’re able to garner some insight in to the characters. One could offer the idea that characters Jenny and Steve basically ask for their punishment in the outset, due to their inability to suck up their pride and move past their initial conflicts. The question in the first half isn’t why the teenagers are so rude and disrespectful, but why character Steve simply can’t let their confrontation go. In the midst of attempting to somewhat gain resolution to the argument with the local teens, he resorts to breaking in to their house, and even attempts to run them off the road. Why is Steve so insistent on inflicting punishment on the teens?
Why not simply swallow his pride and move on with his intended vacation? Steve’s own sense of hubris becomes his undoing when it’s made clear that the teenagers aren’t just aware of his misdeeds, but are given free reign to do what they please. “Eden Lake” then garners insight in to the hive mentality, as the teenagers decide to strike down the couple, and are unwilling to simply allow them some mercy. Once again, the subtle hints at class warfare are conveyed as Steve’s inability to be humbled by townies, turns on its head with a group of vicious townies unwilling to allow mercy on tourists. “Eden Lake” can be a vicious and cruel film, often to a fault.
Director James Watkins displays an unusual sadistic streak in the midst of making his point, and I was never sure if most of the torture inflicted on characters are wholly necessary. Watkins does provide the audience with a glimpse at the horrors of mob rule, as the teenagers alone are meek and weak individuals. But when provoked to go along with their group, they commit truly heinous acts of cruelty that are difficult to endure. The final scenes are much too convenient to be taken seriously at all, but for the most part, “Eden Lake” is a solid horror thriller worthy of a watch, if only for its insight in to how easily the hive mentality can be formed, and how merciless it can be.