Eden Lake (2008) A White Knuckle Ride

Eden Lake

Directed by James Watkins (My Little Eye, Gone) this tale of two young professional urbanites going to the countryside and running into “hoodies from Hell” is a tour de force of white knuckle moments and wincing violence. Watkins uses the film to make a topical statement about juvenile crime‘s increase in the UK and who is responsible for it.

 Kelly Reilly and  Michael Fassbender play the young professional couple Jenny and Steve. Steve has set up a romantic weekend at a lake he remembers from his childhood, It is secluded and a perfect spot for him to propose to his nursery teacher girlfriend. Arriving at the lake, Steve finds that the whole area is to be bulldozed and turned into houses for the “Yuppie” market. He also finds the the secluded area is obviously not so secluded as a gang of local kids seem to be using the area to hang out.
Steve is not best pleased by the appearance of the noisy neighbourhood kids and their dog. Jenny wants to move to another quieter area, but Steve is adamant that they are going to stay. He goes over to the group and asks them to move on. This idea is met with derision and hostility. It is also an open invitation for the youngsters to start harassing the young couple.
Little darlings...not.
Little darlings…not.
The harassment starts with the group just being noisier, before moving off sometime in the middle of the night.  After waking Steve and Jenny find the food they brought has been invaded by insects. They decided to go into town for a meal and to buy provisions. As the couple drive off, they run over something left by the kids and get a flat tire.
Steve replaces the tire and they drive to a cafe in town. While eating their meal they see the kids from the lake in town. Steve asks the waitress if she knows the kids as he wants to talk to their parents about the tire. The waitress becomes very defensive and says, “My kids would never do that.”
Things between the kids and the young couple escalate. Steve angrily confronts the children and one of them takes out a knife. Steve struggles with the boy and during the struggle accidentally kills one of the boy’s dog. The leader of the pack, a lad called Brett (played brilliantly by Jack O’Connell) who is visibly upset, tells Steve and Jenny to go. Steve tries to apologise for the killing of the dog, but the children ignore him.
Steve and Jenny decide they have had enough and start to leave. Brett, however has had a change of heart and has now decided that his gang are going to exact retribution for the death of the dog. So begins a heart pounding, cringe making attack by the children and Steve and Jenny’s attempt to escape.
Deadly hide and seek.
Deadly hide and seek.
James Watkins is another of those British directors that specialises in writing and directing low budget films that grip you. Made in 2008. Eden Lake takes a look at what was considered by  many to be a frighting increase in juvenile crime. The new millennium saw the emergence of the hoodie.
These hooded sweatshirts were the common uniform sported by gangs and other juvenile delinquents who had no problems breaking the law. Their emergence coincided with the courts in England becoming so lenient in terms of punishment for juvenile offenders that law abiding citizens started to fear these young criminals. Watkins’ message seems to be that it is the parents who are to blame.
This film is not easy to watch. I found myself repeatedly getting angry at the “grown-up” characters and their annoying combination of naivety and belief that, until the end, they could solve it all by talking. The calibre of performances was top notch. The location they chose for filming was spot-on, it looked like your average English town.
In fact there is a pub in the film that is a spitting image of a pub outside of Norwich, Norfolk. My daughter and I shiver every time we drive past it and I can’t help but drive a little bit faster.
Not your local friendly village pub.
Not your local friendly village pub.

The Glass House (2001): Teen Troubles

Cover of "The Glass House"
Cover of The Glass House

Teenager Ruby Baker is out on the town and past her curfew. As she says goodbye to her friend and explains that she is going to be in trouble again for being late she hurriedly leaves. While this is going on, her parents are in a car crash and both of them die. She arrives home to find two policemen in her home. When they try to tell her about her parents, she faints.

The beginning of this film leaps into action. Before the first reel has been changed over by the projectionist, Ruby and her younger brother Rhett have been orphaned and now must live with their old neighbours acting as their guardians. The ‘best friends’ have moved to a huge glass house in an exclusive area. This will be their new home.

Once the two children move into the glass mansion, things  start getting strange and it seems the ‘old friends’ have changed from the nice people that used to live next door.

While not anywhere near blockbuster territory, The Glass House delivers very well. For a start Tom Hanks‘s missus Rita Wilson is in an uncredited cameo that must surely classify as the smallest in the world. Ms Wilson plays Ruby and Rhett’s mother and dies roughly about ten minutes into the film with her husband Michael O’Keefe the other candidate for the worlds smallest cameo award. Both Wilson and O’Keefe are seen later in the film when their daughter Ruby visualises their death, over and over.

Ruby is played by the very capable Leelee Sobieski a young actress that make me think of a young Helen Hunt. With two awards under her belt and quite a few more nominations this young lady is not lightweight. She had no trouble convincing me that her character was grieving, confused, and finally suspicious about this couple that she and her brother were wards of. When she takes action, it does not jar or stretch belief.

Diane Lane attending the premiere of True Grit...
Diane Lane attending the premiere of True Grit at the Berlin Film Festival 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Glass couple that take over as the children’s guardians are played by Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgård. My only complaint about the film has to do with the fact that I felt that Ms Lane was not used enough. That is most likely my problem only as I have been a huge fan of this talented lady’s work for years. Stellan Skarsgård does a great job as the devious and slight scary Mr Glass. Glass, it seems, can only afford the grand lifestyle he and his wife have by less than legal means.

English: Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård.

The nicest thing about the film was seeing Bruce Dern as  Ruby’s family lawyer. Dern has been acting since grass was green it seems and the old boy has still got the chops. Although it was a change to see him playing a ‘normal’ good guy part instead of the usual eccentric parts he is famous for.

Bruce Dern at Super-Con 2009 in San Jose, Cali...
Bruce Dern at Super-Con 2009 in San Jose, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All in all a film worth watching. Released in 2001 it is recent enough that it doesn’t suffer from being too outdated. Add the fact that the film is easily available via Netflix and other streaming film sites, it won’t cost you the earth to give it a look.

Mum and Dad: Keeping Horror in the Family

Shot with an estimated budget of just £100,000 ($157,000) this film sets the goal posts for “shoe string budget” films.  First time director Steven Sheil also wrote the film, putting him in the illustrious company of peers like Shane Meadows (Dead Man’s Shoes and This is England) and James Watkins (Eden Lake). This small elite group of British film makers have made brilliant and successful   films that they wrote and directed for  ridiculously tiny amounts of money.
The horror film Mum and Dad shows us first hand what happens when we talk to strangers or trust them. It also proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you really don’t know the people you work with.
The films starts out in Heathrow Airport where cleaner Lena (played by Holby City Alumnus Olga Fedori)  gets to know her fellow workers, brother and sister team, Birdie and Elbie (Ainsley Howard and Toby Alexander). Birdie takes a shine to Lena and tells her about her wonderful parents. Lena explains that she doesn’t get along with her parents and wants to move away from home. At the end of their shift, Lena misses her bus home, and Birdie invites Lena to stay at her house which is near the end of a runway. Lena agrees and follows Birdie and Elbie to a gap in the runway security fence. Clamouring through the gap, they all proceed to the house.
After arriving in Birdie and Elbie’s home, the brother and sister disappear leaving Lena alone. She just starts to explore the house when she meets Dad (played brilliantly by actor Perry Benson) who knocks her out and injects her with something. Lena regains conciousness only to find that she is in a dark room. All she can hear are the tortured screams of someone in the house. Dad then enters the room with Mum (played with sinister madness by Dido Miles). Mum tells  Lena that she will belong to her and she injects Lena again.
The  film deals with a host of indignities inflicted upon Lena. Watching the film, I kept wondering who was going to rape Lena first, Mum or Dad. The entire household appear to be insane sexual deviants who rely on stolen items from the airport to help them get by. It also turns out that Birdie and Elbie are “adopted” just as Lena will be. The only real child that Mum and Dad have is a daughter who is chained to her bed in an attic room.  The daughter suffered severe brain damage after being born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Dad explains, quite gleefully, that as she was a home delivery he had to cut the cord with his teeth.
Lena soon realises that if she does not escape, she will become the mad couples new “daughter.”   Mum and Dad  explain that other “children” who could not  behave were disposed of.  Since their definition of behaving includes being tortured and sexually molested, Lena  starts playing Mum, Dad, Birdie and Elbie against one another with the hope of getting away.
Steven Sheil  based his film on real life rapists and serial killers Fred and Rosemary West whose victims included their own flesh and blood daughter. The film could have been very grim viewing but the director has taken a lot of the sting out of the tale by injecting large doses of black humour. I found myself cringing one moment and laughing the next. The film  deals  with taboo issues such as cannibalism, sexual fetishes, and incest on top of the main topics of kidnapping, murder and theft.
The title of this review could very easily have been Mum and Dad: Horror on a Budget. The director and the cast and crew have proven you don’t need big Hollywood type funds to make an entertaining film.  Writer/director Steven Sheil has produced a film that has been hailed as one of the most disturbing Brit-Horror films to emerge  in recent years. Do not watch this film if you are at all squeamish, but if you can stand a lot of gore, this is a must-see.
Personally, I cannot wait to see what Steven Sheil has in store for us in his next feature.

Long Weekend: Horror in the Outback

Directed by  Colin Eggleston (b:1941 – d:2002) Long Weekend is a piece of low budget genius.  This was only the second feature film helmed by Eggleston and despite the fact that the film bombed in Australia, it went on to win five awards. Part of the reason the film did so badly was probably down to the public placing it in the category of “Ozploitation.”

 John Hargreaves and Briony Behets play Peter and Marcia a young urban couple who are going on holiday. We notice very quickly that Peter and Marcia are a “chalk and cheese” couple. Peter has decided that they are going to ‘rough it’ on a beach in the outback. Marcia has her heart set on staying in a nice hotel somewhere. Somewhat begrudgingly Marcia agrees to try the camping trip idea, but with the proviso that if she really doesn’t like it they can spend the rest of the holiday in a hotel.

From the minute they get into their Jeep and start driving, we the audience can feel the tension between the couple. This tension fluctuates through most of the film and even before Peter runs over a ‘Joey’ leaving it to die in the road, we get a sense of foreboding. A feeling that this trip is not really a good idea.

Long Weekend is mostly a “fish-out-of-water” film. Peter and Marcia do not belong in the countryside.  City dwellers first and foremost they really have no idea what they should be doing once they reach their ‘supposed’ destination.  On their way to the beach they get lost, mainly because the locals at the petrol station do not go out of their way to give them directions, but also because they are careless.

Both Peter and Marcia have a complete disregard about the wildlife they encounter and it’s  natural habitat. John Hargreaves as Peter shows us a man who is basically selfish and immature. He thinks nothing of killing the local flora and fauna or leaving his litter scattered about the previously pristine area. Brioney Behets (who was married to the director at the time) gives Marcia an edge, a feeling of loss and the willingness to bridge the distance between her and Peter. Initially we sympathize Marcia but unfortunately she suffers from the same problems as Peter, selfishness and immaturity. She also has little respect or knowledge of how the countryside works. They are both completely out of their comfort zone and it shows. But only Marcia is smart enough to vocalise her fear and distaste of the great outdoors.

The only time in the film the two character unite is their mutual fear of a huge black shape in the water. Marcia hears a downright scary cry or call from an unknown animal. She goes down to the beach to tell Peter and she sees the black shape moving towards him. Marcia begins screaming hysterically for Peter to get out of the water. Peter, in true urban fashion, shoots the black shape repeatedly.

I can honestly say that when I first watched this film, it made me so uneasy that even I did not want to venture into the great outdoors and I grew up there. The sense of foreboding that we feel at the beginning of the film hits fever pitch after the couple arrive at their destination.  When nature begins to exact a toll from the couple for their criminal behaviour, fever pitch rises to a frenzy.

Long Weekend was remade in 2008 and it is almost a complete frame for frame re-imaging, of the original, but the remake, believe it or not, cranks up the action considerably. It is one of the few remakes that I enjoyed as much as the original.

But I leave you with one request, if at all possible, watch the original first.