It is always good to see a really terrific horror film that can deal with a realistic situation and make it terrifying. And with
EDEN LAKE (READ MY REVIEW HERE), James Watkins has taken the idea of youth violence and created a creepy and tense thriller that will make you think twice next time you tell a group of kids to turn their music down. This is the kind of horror film that we don’t get to see enough of. Sure, lately with films like THE STRANGERS, FUNNY GAMES and ILS we are seeing more people terrorized by psychos. But Mr. Watkins proves that you can make even a familiar story feel fresh and new.
I had the opportunity to speak with James on the phone one Sunday, and I found him to be a terrific fellow to speak with. We talked about his film and about the inspiration behind it and also the casting choices. We also discussed the lack of extras on the DVD. It is a shame that such a strong horror film gets shafted when it came to special features. We also talked about what to expect from DESCENT 2 which he co-wrote. I can honestly say that it was an absolute pleasure to talk shop with James and a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Make sure you check out EDEN LAKE on DVD. It is well worth a purchase. I will give warning… there are minor spoilers in the first half of the interview.
What was the inspiration for telling this particular story?
I guess I was interested in the notion of this fear of youth. Which is really something that is really quite big over [in England]. It’s been in the news quite a bit. The sense over here is, well there’ve been a lot of knife crime and people are really scared of youth and kids. And I thought it’d be an interesting jumping off point for a sort of horror thriller. You know, this sort of powder keg, this kind of tension between… this generational tension. It’s nothing new, you go back to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and stuff like that. But I thought it would be really interesting to take that, and then to go back to a really, kind of horror staple setting like the horror in the woods. You know, in the woods like THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, those kind of classic horror… that kind of backwoods horror. And to take that, and that survival element and see if I can mix all those elements together and try and freshen in up a little bit.
I did find it kind of refreshing that you really get to know the kids on a certain level. Which often times in these kind of horror films, you don’t really get a face to the them. And with EDEN LAKE, you really see them as just kids and I think that is what makes it a little more terrifying.
Well that was important to me and it kind of evolved through the process of the script and then the process of shooting and editing. But I wanted to get more and more a sense of this gang. And it was important to me that the more, in a sense… you know, it gets pretty extreme in the film, but the more you maintain that sort of illusion of reality about it, the more scary it can be. In terms of seeing the kid, I didn’t want it… I wanted it to be clear that it wasn’t six psychos. You know, I wanted it to be clear that it was this one kid who is very screwed up. And how he, with this kind of peer pressure, is brutalizing them all and how they’re all kind of trailing behind him, just because they are kind of scared and can’t really stand up to him. And how he is just driving it along. You know, I don’t want to overstate this but I wanted to sort of have it a little bit more morally complex to do that, but he is the most brutalized kid that you see, with his dad, and you see this kind of cycle of violence. I just wanted to have a sense that, the more you can have a sense of where this might be coming from. Here’s this kid with this real anger deep within him, and I just thought that was something that… you know, you can’t escape from that, it’s not like a supernatural, or a ghost or a vampire or a werewolf movie. It is something that is really located in society, and I just kind of thought that would be really terrifying.
It’s also a very good performance from the young actor. Actually, all the kids were very good. How was it to work with them as a director? Were they pretty easy?
Once we cast them, yeah. It was finding the kids that was a nightmare. Absolutely you want to find the kids that can actually have that sense of reality about their performance. And then, what people often forget, I keep saying to people, if the kids were bad in the film the film would really suck.
You know, you’d watch the film and you’d go, ‘The kids aren’t scary. The kids can’t act.’ You know, you’d pull out of it at any moment and it would just be terrible. I guess I was in denial about that through the process and after that I realized, the wheels could of really come off the train here, it could’ve been really awkward. It’s all about casting the best actors. We spent a long time traveling across the country and going to various workshops and just really worrying about who’d fit each role.
Yeah, I mean look at one of the CHILDREN OF THE CORN sequels and see how the acting really affects the movie. It’s just awful.
Yeah, yeah. There is nothing worse then bad child acting. I mean, that’s painful to watch.
You can tell, because the kids in your film are very well cast.
Yeah, and Thomas Turgoose who plays Cooper, he’s like a big actor here. It’s great. I mean, he’s been in Shane Meadows’ movies, he was in the film THIS IS ENGLAND last year and SOMERS TOWN this year and he’s become a really well known actor over here. And Jack O’Connell who plays the leader of the gang is kind of completely unknown, and that was very exciting. And on the back of that, he just got the lead in a big T.V. series over here. It’s very gratifying to sort of help him along. Because I think Jack has got a terrific career ahead of him. I think he’s a real talent.
I’m sort of surprised that he was an unknown. He’s got the steely eyed monster in him for this role.
He really does. He really created that part and really went for it. He was fearless. And I think that is the great thing you get from young actors. I mean, they have that fearlessness. They are prepared to… I guess they haven’t been battered and bruised by ten years in the industry [Laughing] and starring in lots of shitty films, know what I mean. They just go for it and you say try this, and they try it. It’s terrific. So that was a real pleasure.
And obviously, with the two main characters, it would have been a nightmare not having the right people also. Did you have Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender in mind for those roles?
Yeah. I made a short film with Michael… interestingly enough, but just after my movie, he made a film called HUNGER and it’s won a lot of awards. Michael has suddenly become… he’s probably like the hottest young actor in UK, he just won a… he’s probably going to win a BAFTA. He is a terrific actor and for me, he can really act and he’s got a real charisma and he’s got a real presence as well. We had to sort of bring him down a little because the character of Steve can be a bit of an asshole. I mean, one of the first things she says to him is, ‘Steve you’re such a boy.’ There is the element of him, kind of… sure he’s taking his girl for a romantic weekend and these annoying kids are there. There is a bit of a kind of machismo here. When I was with the film in France, you know the French really enjoyed that element of him that they were like, ‘Ah, he’s being the “guy”’ You know he has this “we were here first” attitude after the first encounter… he’s kind of childish in that way. But at the same time it is the frustration that we can all share. You know, here I am dealing with boys and I am feeling emasculated. And I think that’s tough for him. But he was great and Kelly is just a wonderful actress. Over here, she is one of the top age actresses and she’s building a film career and they were both great to work with.
Talk about fearless. Kelly definitely was…
Oh yeah, she was a trooper. I only realized… it’s funny because when you are making a movie, you kind of disappear into the tunnel of making the movie and you get this kind of tunnel vision. And only afterwards did I realize quite how brutal the whole experience was for Kelly and how… you know, what I put her through. But she was great, I mean, she just went though it the whole time and… I think there was one occasion where it was late at night and it was freezing and she was in that bin, and I was going to put some cockroaches on her and at that point she freaked out, but in a very small and nice and polite way. She is absolutely delightful. To have that degree of commitment and talent and dedication. You know, she spent a long time getting fit. She did running and she got pretty fit for the role. And that dress that she wore… ‘cause all the stunt guys and the AD’s were like, ‘… you’ve gotta put her in trousers, she can’t wear that dress, her legs will get torn to ribbons, it’ll be a nightmare.’ And Kelly and I wanted her to have that look, so at the end… it looks like this terrible fairy tale that she’s been through. And we fought for the dress and poor Kelly, her legs were torn to ribbons. You could see all the bruises and marks. And she was terrific.
I think it’s interesting that you mention the dress because it sort of reminds us of her femininity as she almost has to become the monster…
Oh no, completely. I mean, she starts off as this little school teacher you know. And she loves kids and she has this notion of childhood innocence. And it goes full circle.
Now with the DVD release, usually Dimension Extreme offers up a pretty good package in regards to extras. What happened here? No audio commentary or much of anything else… they seemed to get cheap on this one.
Yeah, I don’t know what happened there, but there should have been an audio commentary
It seemed like there would have been quite a few interesting stories that could have been brought up.
Yeah. I can only apologize for that… I would have liked to have done a commentary.
Well even without the extras I do think that the film is terrific and I’d recommend it.
Oh thank you, I appreciate that.
Now I’d like to talk a little bit about another interesting project. What can we expect from THE DESCENT 2?
Well, you know that Jon [Harris] is directing it, in fact I had lunch with him last week, it was in the cutting room. Jon cut EDEN LAKE, he was the editor on EDEN LAKE. And Jon is an absolutely amazing editor and a very, very talented director as well. Basically what happened was, Jon’s cut some really great films, he cut the first DESCENT. And Christian Colson, the producer who also produced SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, the new Danny Boyle movie.
That’s my favorite film this past year man.
It’s a brilliant movie isn’t it?
Well, Christian has produced… you couldn’t get more different movies, he produced SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, EDEN LAKE and THE DESCENT… that’s his last few movies. So Christian got me and Jon, we didn’t know each other, and he just kind of put us together and said, ‘Listen, let’s try and make this work with Jon cutting James’ movie and get James on board in the writing of Jon’s movie. So it’s been a really great, kind of collegiate experience. And what Jon - I hope I’m not putting words in his mouth - but what I think Jon and I wanted to pursue with the sequel, with D2, was we wanted to make a movie that kind of had all the best elements, or what we thought were the best elements of the first film. For us, it was the real primal fear. For me, sure you need the monsters and they are there and are terrific, we had a bit more money this time to really emphasis them and make them good. Obviously they’re still in the shadows. But the horrors of being down in the cave, for us, the horrors of the fear of the dark, fear of this kind of weight of rock above you, claustrophobia… The scariest sequence for me in the first film is when she gets caught in the really tight tunnel and she kind of panics and they have the cave in, I think that is scarier than anything with the monsters.
That is also my favorite scene in the movie…
Yeah. That is just such a primal fear. So what Jon and I wanted to do was to kind of… sure the film has to deliver with, you know, once they get down into the cave, Jon’s got the film really tight and it really rocks. It’s just a relentless journey once the team is in the cave. But all those elements, we wanted just to max out. I don’t know how much I can say but… for example, the claustrophobia, the couple of scenes that we just said, ‘Okay, we have that scene in the first film with claustrophobia. How can we take that and just make it a whole lot bigger and scarier?’ There is one that involves water and it’s just terrifying. When we were filming it and the crew were like, oh my God, this is horrible. I shot the second unit in it and Jon shot my second unit on EDEN LAKE. Kind of a little British cottage industry… [Laughing].
Are you a bit nervous as to the reaction from fans of the original film?
Um… well you just want to do justice to the first film. Yeah.. I guess… I know that I’ve seen people saying how can they make a sequel and all of that, but my job is to make it as good as it can be. And I think it is a worthy successor. We always looked at HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN 2 and you can look at ALIEN and ALIENS. You know, I think that there are sequels that stand up to the original and that is what we are aspiring for I suppose. We didn’t want to just do a cheap cash in you know. Jon and I have worked really hard.
Well after seeing what you did with EDEN LAKE, I’m really excited for it.
Well I hope so, you never know, but we’ve worked bloody hard and hopefully it’s a good movie. I think it will be.
And you have a couple original cast members returning…
Yeah, yeah, definitely Sarah [Shauna Macdonald]… she’s the lead you know. And I don’t know what’s been confirmed with everybody else, but yeah… there is someone there. [At press time, Natalie Jackson Mendoza is expected to be in it also as Juno]
I won’t push you too much [Laughing].
I don’t know what I’m allowed to say here James [Laughing]…
So you’ve got this, you’ve got Descent 2, what’s next for you?
Well I’ve got a little period ghost story that I’m working on with BBC Films. That may happen… we’ll see. It’s sort of scary, terrifying and tender is how I like to see it. You know, that may happen. But there are several things that I’m writing and working with but that’s he one that looks like it’s closest.
Let me know what you think. Send questions and/or comments to JimmyO@JoBlo.com