Fresh country air again proves very bad for urbanites’ health in “Eden Lake,” an effectively harrowing Brit thriller-cum-horror pic whose yuppie protags’ weekend getaway runs violently afoul of the local youth. Mixing basic cautionary “For God’s sake, don’t go camping!” terror with dashes of “Last House on the Left” and “Lord of the Flies,” James Watkins’ first feature has duly grisly content but is (mostly) credible enough to avoid a rote exploitation feel. Released in the U.K. in mid-September, its limited Halloween opening Stateside, with zero Weinstein Co. fanfare, will at least raise awareness for Dimension Extreme DVD launch.
Thirtyish Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender, “Hunger”) are attractive and in love, and he’s about to pop the question during their planned idyllic countryside jaunt. In other words, they’re toast. It’s his idea that they camp at a beautiful remote quarry, a public park soon to be destroyed for gated-community, luxury-home development. Their first night is spent at the nearest town’s bed-and-breakfast, around which loutish locals raise a warning bell.
The next day, they drive Steve’s SUV to the site, where there’s unpleasantness with six BMX bike-riding juveniles lolling about the lakefront. The morning after, the couple find their provisions and car vandalized. Despite that — and being threatened by one kid’s vicious Rottweiler — they return for a second night’s camp-out. Why two seemingly not dumb adults would do so is perhaps the biggest of several credibility gaps — exacerbated by pic’s gritty, realistic air — that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in a more conventional slasher or supernatural-menace context.
There are gruesome moments as each protag endures prolonged physical harm. But “Eden Lake” doesn’t feel like torture porn so much as a rural-jeopardy thriller in extremis. Watkins (who wrote the above-average prior genre exercises “Gone” and “My Little Eye”) delivers a muscular chiller straddling action/horror terrain. Perfs are strong; tech/design aspects ditto, with Chris Ross’ widescreen lensing highlighted by effective aerial shots. David Julyan contributes a solid, traditional orchestral score.
Ending might strike some as classist, stretching pic’s negative portrait of “chavs” — a derogatory term applied to English working-class, mostly white youth associated with juvenile delinquency, soccer hooliganism and obnoxious behavior — to encompass vulgar parents who’ll do anything to protect their cubs. Of course, such white-trashsploitation is nothing new in the U.S. But said climax here has the somewhat awkward role of straddling early Mike Leigh and “The Hills Have Eyes.”