Wednesday 29 April 2009

‘Eden Lake’ and cycling

Eden Lake is a horror movie about a nice young middle class couple who leave London in their 4X4 for an idyllic weekend camping in some remote woods beside a water-filled quarry. There they run into a gang of teenagers and things start to get nasty, and then much nastier still…

It’s a slick, well-made horror. I didn’t think it was a great film and it's not one I'm in any hurry to see again. Eden Lake is too derivative, both in content and technique. I’ve seen much of it before, in Straw Dogs, Deliverance and the Friday the 13th movies. I didn’t think there was any chemistry between the lead actor and actress, and they didn’t engage me as characters. Also, the script fudges such matters as sex and nudity (which are usually very important to horror in the woods). When the gang finally capture the heroine, who cavorts in her bikini and spends a lot of the film running around in a low cut dress, all those evil, nasty teenagers want to do with her is tie her up.

As various reviewers have noted, this is a middle class anxiety movie. Hence the absence of nudity and rape. This is a horror film which, for all its violence, stays on the side of decency.

The makers of Eden Lake have cannily latched on to the most troubling trauma of Middle England: the fear that gangs of violent, irrational hoodies are turning our public spaces into no-go areas for decent people. No wonder that the Daily Mail calls Eden Lake “all too real” and advises every MP to see it. If ever a film fitted a worldview of a whole society going rotten, this is it.

What intrigues me is that an essential component of the feral youth gang is that its members are all cyclists. Their first appearance in the movie is riding through a red light at a junction, causing the hero to slam on the brakes of his Jeep. Later they cycle down to the shoreline and disturb the tranquillity of the hero and heroine. Later still, they hunt down the heroine on their bikes. Expressing the fantasy life of every Mail reader, the heroine grabs a branch and knocks the lead cyclist off his bike. All the other cyclists then crash too. Later on, the heroine succeeds in killing a member of the gang by running them down, deliberately. And the film enlists your sympathy for this action. If Eden Lake is about 4X4 lifestyle anxiety, it is also about fantasies of 4X4 lifestyle revenge on those who disturb it. The good people drive 4X4s. The bad people cycle. And it's a war.

And so there it is. The identifying characteristics of feral youth, other than knives and a slavering Rottweiler, are bicycles and cycling. The road users most demonised by the mass media are, in this movie, literally evil. And the evil is signalled right from the start by their flouting of red lights at a junction.

Eden Lake is about terror, violence, risk and threat. But as Richard Morrison notes

If you are a middle-class adult, you are in more danger of being killed by a household appliance than by a knife-wielding or gun-toting teenage thug. Even for youths living in tough neighbourhoods, the chance of being stabbed or shot has been luridly exaggerated by the media. For teenagers (as for everyone else) the recklessly driven motor car is still the biggest danger on the streets.

I suppose the message of Eden Lake is this.

If you drive a Jeep, obey your Sat Nav and don't laugh at its advice to turn round and go back.

If you are a cyclist, don’t go through a red light. Do that on a regular basis and you'll soon find yourself casting all social restraints aside and freewheeling down a slippery slope that ends in horrifying assaults on 4X4 drivers and their passengers. And we wouldn't want that, would we?