4.5 out of 5 Skulls
Starring: Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Jack O’Connell
Written & Directed By: James Watkins
We chose to review Eden Lake for our Final Girl series because it has a very strong, smart Final Girl and an interesting twist on a seasoned storyline. Aside from this film having our favorite type of Final Girl, it also surprises you by making you empathize with some of the antagonists. The circle of violence breeding fear then fear turning into more violence in this film was interesting and thought provoking. It has such a powerful disturbing tone, you empathize in the protagonists humanity and believe in their strength so much, it really feels like you are experiencing it all through them, making it disquieting and almost painful to endure the senseless cruelty they are being subjected to.
Even when we were planning our “Final Girl” photo story, images of our Eden Lake final girl kept surging in to my mind. Jenny is absolutely what comes to mind for me when thinking of my ideal final girl; someone who was forced in to such a horrific situation and will fight until her last breath even when giving up would be infinitely easier. Her hunger for life and justice is inspiring, making you empathize with her so deeply, especially after being there with her over all she has suffered through. Rather than letting her fear, disgust, rage, and heartbreak consume and weaken her, she uses it as fuel against those who have so horribly wronged her, kicking her survival instincts and pure ferocity in to high gear.
I know we have both discussed our preference for final girls that are “normal” at the beginning, not weak and become strong, and not someone who already was super strong and already has the advantage even if this is a rude awakening to the tormentors. Those have their merits too, but there is something that seems inherently more admirable to someone who is just a normal woman faced with a brutal fight for their lives and radiates intelligence and strength in the face of this horror, showing their will cannot be broken. This was Jenny. I also appreciated there was a bit of a reversal of gender roles with the protector being the woman rather than the damsel in distress. I appreciated they didn’t feel the need to then make the man weak or despicable, which is often the go to when trying to reverse roles to show a strong woman. You can have a strong female character without a weak or horrid male character. He actually was incredibly strong with everything he had to endure in the situation, but ultimately Jenny was given the role of the protector and fighting to the death both for his sake and hers, which was utterly heartbreaking and empowering to watch at the same time.
I agree, in my eyes, Jenny is the ideal type of Final Girl character. She’s a normal girl that’s put in a horrible situation and she steps up to each challenge she’s faced with. She has incredible endurance and does everything she can possibly do to ensure her and Steve’s survival. She’s still affected by the horrendous situation she’s in, she just powers through her fear and grief to do everything necessary to survive. She is such a strong character, but you’re still able to see the vulnerable, caring side of her throughout the film. I love the scene where she ends up being Steve’s protector. His character is never portrayed as weak to help her character appear stronger, he just gets more brutalized in the beginning and is physically incapable of fighting anymore. They have a touching “role-reversal” moment where she hides him and is holding him, stroking his hair, doing her best to protect him.
What really surprised me about this film is how much I ended up empathizing with some of the antagonists. Throughout the movie, I rooted for Jenny to fight and survive but I also rooted for the kids to stand up to their bully. They’re just a group of kids turned murderous because of one bully, Brett. Watching this unfold and how he manipulates the other kids into maiming and killing is so true-to-life that it’s not only scary, it’s sad. It hit the nail on the head with how bullying works and how people that otherwise would never have done something like this get in over their heads and don’t know how to get out. The other kids are terrified of Brett and even the ones who really don’t want to hurt anyone do it because they’re so scared of him and, ultimately, everyone else under his control. This film does such a good job portraying that relationship that you understand how the nice kids ended up in the situation and, even though you don’t want them to hurt anyone, you really empathize with them. The vicious circle of violence breeding fear then fear turning into more violence here is what drives the entire movie. Brett is violent and scares the other so they do what he says and they become violent against Jenny and Steve and, ultimately, this makes Jenny lash back out of fear.
Eden Lake portrays an emotional and gritty fight for survival that is utterly captivating, but it’s really the cyclical bullying, manipulation, and power complex at play that not only is the reason all this is happening, but what really sets the film apart as a horror films of substance; diving in to what breeds violence. It has a strong questioning of the damaging effects of a toxic home life, suggesting it might be the real culprit here and the social consequences that holds; being a breeding ground of broken individuals and devastation. It’s subtle and revealed over time, but it becomes evident, as much of a heartless monster Brett seems to be, in some ways he is a victim as well. His father greets him with anger, resentment, and physical bullying, while love or concern seems to be non-existent until it’s an excuse to exert more undeserved violence. Brett is very likely the bully he is as a consequence of his father’s treatment towards him. It seems likely Brett needed an outlet, to feel superior in a way he didn’t in his home life. He made not only our protagonists, but also those in his gang that outlet. Even his friends aren’t free of his wrath, if they weren’t with him and an active participant in this vile torment, he would turn his efforts to them, to make them regret not being a puppet in his games.
The other parents might not have been as direct of a result of their children getting caught up in all this, but they still don’t seem innocent in my eyes, at the very least they are part of the societal critique on allowing violence to prevail. They might not be showing aggression to their children, but many of them seem to be fairly absent, letting their kids run around and do whatever they want. They are unable to believe there’s any way their child could do any wrong, preferring to be oblivious rather than noticing that while their children still have humanity and decency in them, they are riddled with fear and trapped by something they might not be able to come away from unscathed.
*SPOILER WARNING regarding a characters death, highlight the below area to reveal the text if you wish to read*
I definitely don’t feel like the other parents are innocent in this either, however, I do think their main issue is their ignorance. It does seem like they’ve almost chosen to be ignorant though which is another one of those painful truths about the world that this movie makes you swallow. Before the kids even turn violent, Steve mentions something about them to their waitress at the diner. Steve wasn’t blaming the waitress or her kid, he was just asking if she knew who it could be, but she responds to Steve telling him that it couldn’t possibly be her kid and won’t even hear him out. We find out at the end of the film that her kid was one of the kids when she shows up again and finds out her kid is dead. Jenny ended up killing him out of fear and self-defense, but again, Jenny doesn’t ever get the chance to explain what happened.
The story in this film is so well-developed and real in how and why all of this could go down that it makes the experience extra gut-wrenching. This isn’t one of those stories about crazy people living in the woods or some far-fetched situation. These are realistic people acting in ways we see in real life, they just spiral out of control, but the spiral is so thoroughly shown and explained that you understand their moves every step of the way. This drew me in closer to the story. I really felt for most of the characters in the movie, I understood where they were coming from and why they were acting in the ways they were. I didn’t agree with all of their actions, but I could see their thought processes of why they ended up there. This realism made this movie so better to me.
There is an ever present biting realism throughout the movie, which he
ightens the experience and emotions of the film. This makes all the characters and their actions seem plausible and very real, allowing it all to affect you that much more. This realism and the layers and relevant examination on hand also makes it a valid reflection of ugly things that are present in the world that are worth confronting and even more so understanding. I love all brands of horror, but horror that creatively utilizes the genre, that depicts evils in an honest way, to both explore and expose darkness in the world and what its born from, is really the horror that inspires and empowers me the most. I greatly appreciate Eden Lake for nailing that so well.