Sometimes vacations just don't pan out the way you plan them: the car gets a flat tire, the locals eye you suspiciously over your eggs and bacon, and gangs of teenage miscreants stalk you through the woods like little Rambos with acne and braces. It's enough to make you want to stay home and scrub toilets with your Rick Steves souvenir scarf. In Eden Lake, a well made, small-budget British horror film, these strange mishaps not only occur, but quickly escalate into something more sinister.
Our hero Steve (Michael Fassbender) has planned a romantic surprise. Having completely lost his mind, he's decided to "pop the question" to his school teacher girlfriend, Jenny (Kelly Reilly). And guys, what more romantic place could a young couple in love get surprise-hitched than at a remote and abandoned quarry surrounded by hurricane fences, heavy machinery and scrub brush? Seriously, am I to understand that Laser Quest was all booked up? (Apparently our friend Steve has never had a girlfriend before.)
Anyway, while Steve and Jenny bask and ballyhoo on their seemingly private beach, the most deadly of all creatures, "tweeners," infiltrate the scene like the world's worst flash mob and quickly disrupt their idyllic solitude. By peeping at Jenny through binoculars, playing loud "music," letting loose their slobbery canine, and probably ignoring their trig homework, these working class hooligans soon make Steve's plans of spooning the fair Jenny tiresomely difficult. (Think "Slipknot concert" and you get the general idea.)
Steve tries to speak rationally and calmly to the future fast-food career-trackers only to be rebuffed like a first-year public school teacher in study hall. Making it worse, as Steve and the future missus leave on a supply run, they drive over an intentionally well-placed bottle and blow out a ridiculously expensive radial tire because heaven forbid NTB should have a cheaper brand and someone who can put it on without stopping every five minutes to smoke a cigarette and talk about last night's American Idol. (Sorry. Still a little bitter.)
Anyway, these well acted and intense opening scenes feel very authentic and completely plausible. And because of that, the crazy build-up that follows is not only terrifying, but (almost) makes sense. Character development, as in most horror films, consists of creating just enough empathy for Steve and Jenny to make the viewer want to root for them to escape the inevitable harm that is sure to come their way. More importantly though, the teen thugs are not just evil clones of one another (Children of the Corn, I'm looking at you), but instead have distinct personalities and varying degrees of culpability.
The coincidences at the ending of this movie are admittedly far-fetched, and the climax itself is wholly and purposefully unsatisfying. (You'll still be throwing popcorn at your screen even AFTER the credits have rolled.) But it is an ending that completes the movie in a logical way and is meant to prove a point. And what is that point, you may ask? Just this: