While European horror has been making quite a name for itself these last couple of years, the Brits have been lagging behind a little bit. There have been attempts, but none of them as good or solid enough to rival the best of France or Spain (and even Belgium). Then along came Watkins, raising the bar for all to follow.
Eden Lake starts off same way many of his predecessors did. A young couple has planned a little hike to an idyllic lake, but the camping trip doesn't go exactly as planned. Rather than run into a vivid, hard to kill slasher, they meet up with a group of bratty kids. Nothing too scary, though Ils proved that even kids can be pretty mean when they want to be.
While the film starts of pretty timid, even in these first moments a brooding undertone is already present. And when the group of kids makes its entrance, what follows is not hard to predict. Where Eden Lake shines though, is the way it escalates the situation. Inch by inch things take a turn for the worse and once the ball gets rolling, there's really no stopping what was started.
It takes about another hour before the film reaches its climax, by then the film has dealt several punches to the gut. While not exactly gory or gross, the happenings are pretty hard to stomach and are as chilly as can be. A typical British treat (think The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael) which feels pretty fresh in a true horror context.
Visually the film is okay. Though not much attention is paid to framing pretty pictures, the camera work is effective in creating a menacing atmosphere. The forest makes for a good setting, allowing for lots of daylight filming without losing suspense and the make-up effects are juicy and believable. Watkins is also a master in not showing things, with the most horrible things actually happening off screen, still only increasing the effect.
The soundtrack goes pretty much unnoticed throughout the first part of the film, but when nearing the climax Watkins sets up some nice melodies. Rather soft and delicate music, but a little distorted to suit and set the atmosphere right. Very smart use of sound there, with the song accompanying the end credits leaving me knocked out cold in my seat.
The finale of Eden Lake is nothing short of impressive. Even though not every turn in the film is equally believable, the slow pace at which it builds towards its climax evens everything out, sucking you right in. Add to that great performances of Reilly and O'Connell (a completely and utterly unlovable prick) and some disturbing final events, and what you have is one, if not the best horror flick to come out of Britain for a long long time.
While not as good as the best Europe has to offer, Eden Lake is a prime example of British harshness combined with good old-fashioned horror, increasing the insanity notch by notch and delivering a great finale. Every bit as intense as a film like this should be.