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Simon Read [Celluloid 09.15.15] thriller drama

Perhaps the most notable thing about Eden is how unremarkable it all feels. Don't get me wrong; this is a competently made thriller with some surprising and suspenseful moments, but it feels bogged down by a piecemeal script and cliché-driven characters. Despite some strong performances, Shyam Madiraju's film ends up feeling like a diluted blend of other movies. The result might just please the fan of testosterone-driven machismo, angry shouting and occasional punch-ups, but has little to offer a viewer searching for something new and interesting in the survival genre.

Early scenes introduce us to a US soccer team as they board a private flight home following a victory on the pitch. We're provided some brief character interactions to let us know who's who, before the plane abruptly nosedives into the Pacific Ocean, leaving the few survivors to swim ashore a small island and await rescue. With limited supplies of water and food, the team, their trainer, and the coach's two daughters, need rely on what remains of their dwindling camaraderie in order to survive...

Naturally, tensions begin to arise. Nice-guy Slim (Nate Parker - also given story and producer credit) is a reluctant leader, despite his status as team captain, so it falls to the hard-nosed utilitarian Andy (Ethan Peck) to call the shots. Andy seems tough but fair, rationing water and allowing for no special treatment or favours. But as rescue appears increasingly unlikely, his cool façade starts to crack, and we wonder if he's really the righteous guy he makes out to be, or if perhaps he's been spending too much time in the sun. When Andy suggests holding out on provisions as a means of punishment, or even for those whose injuries may prove fatal, Slim finds reason to step-up and finally take command of his team, although it may be too late.

From here, the film takes a fairly predictable route, as we're left with Slim's group of 'goodies', and the 'baddies' led by Andy. If you've ever wondered, while watching films like The Road Warrior, whether the evil punks ever look at themselves and think, "Are we, like, the bad guys here? I mean we're basically just terrible people," then you'll get a familiar feeling watching Eden. The problem is that we don't really know or care about any of the secondary characters, from the various identi-kit jocks, who all look as though they've stepped out of a deodorant commercial, to the bikini-clad sisters, who seem to be conducting affairs with anyone who has stubble and a football shirt. It's always difficult to accept (or care about) the illogical actions of characters when you don't know who they are, so there's very little tension or emotional investment involved as the group arbitrarily split into two camps, bound by entirely separate moral compasses. It isn't so much a case of too many characters - there are about ten in total - but rather that they are very flatly written. When one of the handsome jocks is delivered a fatal blow, the editor slows things down, laying over some dramatic music, but without knowing anything about this guy, we might as well be watching a horse eating an apple.

Additionally, the tense relationship which develops between Slim and Andy, though ripe for exploration, results in nothing more than a few damp and predictable confrontations on the beach, culminating with a fairly standard wrestling match. Parker and Peck are perfectly good actors, with the latter delivering a strong performance - managing to project a sense conflict and growing madness while keeping it borderline realistic - but neither character is terribly interesting. As the film lurched towards its conclusion, despite my losing interest in who was attacking whom and for what reason, I managed to second-guess the film's outcome. That's not a good sign.

On the plus side, Eden is well made in terms of nuts-and-bolts craft and design. The opening plane crash is quite impressive; Madiraju's camera moves with a certain finesse and captures some intense moments (one involving a landmine had me sitting up and applauding loudly) as well as much of the island's natural beauty; and the pace of the film is mercifully brisk, never lingering too long on any one scene (that this is merciful, however, says more about the quality of the dialogue than anything else). There is no one element of the film which stands out as particularly bad, but the overall feeling is one of straight-to-DVD, boys'-night-in-with-beers, and a lingering whiff of Vinnie Jones's career. While it bills itself as "a modern-day Lord of the Flies", film-wise, it felt more like a curious cross between The Divide and The Condemned. Despite obvious nods to Castaway and The Beach, Eden lacks anything approaching those films' style or longevity.

Far from a total disaster, Eden does manage to provide a few decent shocks and moments of suspense, but ultimately reveals itself as too familiar, never stepping out of its own comfort zone to give us something new to chew on.

Eden opens September 18.

Recommended Release: The Beach

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