James Watkins Interview: Eden Lake
After years of hard-work as a Scriptwriter on a number of modern horror classics that include My Little Eye and The Descent, James Watkins finally got the chance to show the world quite how sick and brilliantly twisted he could be with his directorial debut (and self-written) ‘Hoodie-Horror’, Eden Lake.
Compelling and provocative, the film follows a completely normal couple as they escape to the country for a relaxing weekend away. While the remote location is perfect, their romantic getaway is soon destroyed by a gang of violent youths who are eerily recognisable to anybody living in England today. What begins as tit-for-tat confrontation soon escalates into something far more terrifying, horrific and increasingly bloody.
To celebrate its DVD release on 19th January, we spoke with the man himself to get his opinions on the state of England today, European vs American horror and…. The Goonies?!
OTB: It’s long been said that horror films hold a mirror up to society. Both My Little Eye and Eden Lake are very current films in terms of their influences. Are you trying to make some kind of socio-political commentary or did you just set out to make a film that scares the living bejeezus out of the audience?
JW: Well, first and foremost, I wanted to make a scary film. I’m not a socialist or a politician or anything like that but at the same time I wanted to make a film that feeds on contemporary fears. I didn’t want to make something that talks about vampires or werewolves or anything like that. I really wanted to explore current fears and ones that seem especially valid.
OTB: After watching Eden Lake, we think its safe to say you hit the nail on the head. Have you ever had a personal experience with England’s delightfully charming ‘Hoodie’ culture?
JW: Not in a meaningful way. I mean, I’ve never had a direct interaction as such, but I’ve definitely been in those situations where you see them from afar, or see them doing something and experienced that sense of ‘what would you do? Would you get involved?’. It’s that interesting quandary of moral obligation against what is the sensible thing to do. And I really think that was interesting. How the sensible thing to do was not, in inverted commas, the ‘right’ thing to do.
OTB: Why do you think so many horror films nowadays are focusing on youth and using children as the villains?
JW: Ooh, hmm. I don’t know really. I think people are looking for things that they think are scary. There’s always been a fear of youth, going all the way back to A Clockwork Orange. It’s always existed. The sense of ‘innocence in evil’ is an element that people have always been drawn to.
OTB: What do you think of suggestions that the film should be shown in school as some kind of educational tool?
JW: Well, it’s an 18 certificate, so that’s where it kind of falls at the first hurdle. I can’t really make too much of a case for it. I’m very flattered but at the same time I have people coming up to me and saying I’m a sick bastard and how dare I, so….
OTB: I really enjoyed the way that the mood and tone in the film seem to almost hark back to that 70’s style horror, away from the fantastical aliens-zombie-ghost Hollywood approach. It’s incredibly brutal in its plausibility. Would you say 70’s horror was a big influence on you?
JW: Very much so. We definitely wanted to have a sense of looking backing to those films, like Wes Craven, The Last House on the Left, Deliverance, Straw dogs etc. The sense of queasiness and moral awkwardness you have with those films, where you’re not sure what to think, what to feel or what is right. I also think we’re living in a similar period of doubt to that of the early 70’s – we’re in a depressed period, coming out of a war and so forth. Those films and that period are really interesting to me. I think it was a blossoming that seemed to allow for films that didn’t necessarily tie things up easily.
OTB: That’s really noticeable in a lot of your works actually. My Little Eye, The Descent and Eden Lake aren’t exactly happy-clappy, happy-ever-after stories.
JW: Well in horror films you’re able to do that. It’s the one area where you can be transgressive in the rules of the game. Most people like to have the reassurance of the hero winning or the bad guys punished, but life is not necessarily like that. In horror there’s a certain freedom to explore.
OTB: I’ve seen you mention the French horror classic Switchblade Romance in terms of inspiration. I totally see that. Which country do you think is currently producing the best horror?
JW: Films in Spain are doing pretty well, what with the guys behind [Rec] and The Orphanage, but there’s also some tough horror coming out of France. I think European horror is more interesting than a lot of American horror, which tends to be remake horror or reformatting of Korean and Japanese horror. There certainly seems to be more originality coming from Europe.
OTB: You’ve been co-writing the sequel to Neil Marshall’s 2005 seminal movie, The Descent. The end of the first film seemed very final, but I understand there were different endings for the UK and US audiences? Which one are you following up on and would you then say that’s the target audience you’re appealing to this time?
JW: Hmm. This always confuses me. I think we’re trying to make a film that over here has got to address the English ending and in America has got to address the American ending. I think we’ve done it.
(Beware! This question contains a spoiler)
OTB: With that in mind, what do you think about the differences between American and English horror, and the influences of your homeland?
JW: I think that I’d never have been able to make this in America because it’s too brutal. I remember one American interviewer said to me: “You kill the dog, you kill the children and you kill the hero.” In terms of redemptive American cinema, it doesn’t really fit in. Also, the social element of this film, the way that it glances on society and intersects with the social realist genre was a deliberate choice. American films tend to exist in more of an abstract realm of entertainment. (End of spoiler)
OTB: You’ve worked with a lot of up-and-coming talent on the British scene. What was it like working with Michael Fassbender (Hunger, nominated for 2009’s BAFTA Rising Star Award)?
JW: He’s great. I actually made a short film with him before this film. As you can see in Hunger, he’s a very committed actor. Michael’s so passionate and incredibly generous. There was one torture scene that required him to sit for three days in the mud. I mean, we had to go and shoot it from all the angles and it took ages. But even when he was off camera he was performing and giving the kids (some of whom had no acting experience) the intensity they could feed from. He’s a lovely man and very unselfish.
OTB: And finally, completely randomly, in a fight to the death who would win in a between The Goonies and Eden Lake’s Hoodies?
JW: Hmm. Well I suppose Brett (who plays the gang’s leader in the film) would probably eat them for breakfast.
By Matt Risley