Eden Lake seems to have been made for the British Daily Mail set; its plot involves a group of young hoodlums who terrorize a young liberal couple (Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender) on vacation in the countryside. The kids embody every single stereotype of the lower-class-gone-wrong: they listen to rap music! they talk loudly and profanely! they have a dog who they don’t clean up after! After nearly ruining the couple’s day out at the beach, and completely blowing off Fassbender’s strong paternal advice, they disappear into the woods, hopefully never to be seen again. Not so, obviously.
Not only are the antagonists stereotypes of the highest degree, Reilly’s character is a young, bright-eyed teacher who really believes in the youth of England. On the drive to the small country town where they plan to spend the weekend, they listen to radio reports about youth crime and education in England, in case it wasn’t clear enough to the audience that the country has some bad apples.
There is an unfortunate incident with the couple and the youths’ dog, and that sets the bloody action off. For the rest of the movie, there’s a lot of running, bleeding, and crying. The suspense is well-done at points, even when it’s pretty transparent. The most interesting part of the film comes near the end, when Jenny (Reilly) emerges from a bin of shit (literally), where she has been hiding from her tormentors. She looks at herself in a pane of glass, covered in filth, and seems to have changed. She wipes off her face and has the stony, possessed look of Willard from Apocalypse Now. She then kills the most innocent kid from the group without even a second though; although right after she does it, she gains back her humanity as soon as she had lost it.
The movie does a great job of tapping into that relatable fear of youth without boundaries. Their parents don’t care about disciplining them, they don’t care about anything, and that makes them liable to do anything. And they do, in Eden Lake. There’s a bit of clumsy, underdeveloped dialogue about how the industrial site near the beach “used to be a park,” but I was unsure if that was a social commentary or just a scarier setting to have a chase scene. While you could do worse than watch this movie, I recommend David Moreau and Xavier Palaud’s Ils as a much better example of the terrifying child tormentors movie. In Ils, the children aren’t stereotypes, they’re spectres who can’t be pinned down, and that’s much scarier than lazy social commentary on those goddamn kids of today.