The business of abduction and sex trafficking has been tackled by films before, but most of these films are simply interested in throwing their character through an emotional wringer. It's not that those thrillers make light of the crime, exactly (although it can feel cheap to depict such a brutal world solely because the filmmakers know it almost guarantees the audience will be deeply uncomfortable), just that they're more focused on characters and story being told than the issue at hand. Eden is the reverse of that: it adopts a thriller story that ultimately takes a backseat to director / co-writer Megan Griffiths' emotionally and psychologically complex study of a young woman trapped in one of these organizations.
Hyun Jae (Jamie Chung) is still a teenager, working in her parents' store, sneaking cigarettes, hoping to have a little fun one night sneaking into a bar with her friend Abbie (Tracey Fairaway). Instead, she gets separated from Abbie and catches a ride home with a handsome stranger, which quickly turns into a nightmare when he hands her off to Bob Gault (Beau Bridges), a corrupt police officer who runs a massive prostitution business out of a storage unit somewhere in the middle of the desert. With the assistance of his crack-addicted right-hand man Vaughan (Matt O'Leary), Bob organizes and delivers his 20 or 30 captives to anxious customers, using ankle bracelets and muscle men to make sure none of the girls try and escape.
Following an orientation and an escape attempt, Griffiths' jumps to the film's most interesting section: "One Year Later." Hyun Jae, now going by her assigned name of "Eden", has almost become accustomed to being a prisoner. When she's with a client, she puts on an exaggerated Chinese accent and adopts a broken English speech pattern to further the fantasy, and there are times where she seems almost happy -- or at least, no more unhappy than one would at any job. Griffiths, who worked on the infamous film Zoo, translates some of that documentary technique into Eden, capturing a strange portrait of human psychological rationalization in the face of a deep and potentially unending darkness. Death is unknown and it would mean defeat, so Hyun Jae stops resisting her captors. The idea of being forced to become a sex slave is horrific on its own, but it's even more uncomfortable to see someone forced to accept it in order to survive, which Griffiths captures with a gut-wrenching matter-of-factness.
This delicate atmosphere would not be possible without a cast on the same page, and Griffiths' three leads provide perfect support for her vision. Matt O'Leary, so wonderful as a drifting delinquent in Natural Selection, takes another unstable character and makes him much different. It's easy to detect Vaughan's shaky rationalizations about his work grinding away under the surface, underlining his moral uncertainty when he's forced to stop living in the moment and consider the bigger picture of his life. Bridges is casually sinister, exhibiting a cavalier confidence that adds to Hyun Jae's hopelessness. Of course, the film rests on Chung's shoulders, and she wisely retreats into the character, playing up Hyun Jae's timidity and obedience rather than her strength. The temptation would probably be to go bigger with a character being put through so much, with big crying and screaming sequences, or to show a defiant spark in her throughout the film, but that's not how Hyun Jae keeps herself alive, and Chung is unafraid to become small and nervous, holding her whole body as if she's already ready to recoil. Her sorrow exists around the edges, and even then, it's subdued, stemming from defeat rather than terror.
The last fifteen minutes or so of Eden return to the thriller aspects of the film, and they're not particularly interesting. Although Eden is based on the true story of Chong Kim, there's a distinct sense of dramatic license in the way the film ultimately plays out. Even so, at the heart of the film is a devastating, uncomfortable portrait of a survivor who has no choice but to accept life in Hell if she ever wants a chance to climb back out.
A gigantic title logo, amped-up colors (in this case, darkened red and blue), and cranked contrast make this look like any number of direct-to-video horror films rather than a fairly high-class thriller. I don't know that the poster art is necessarily any clearer, but I'm not convinced this was the way to go. This Region B disc comes in a double-thick, boxy Blu-Ray case, and there is no insert inside the case.
The Video and Audio
UK distributor Clear Vision offers a 2.35:1 1080p AVC presentation that is very close to reference quality. During well-lit daytime scenes (the majority of the film), Eden looks spectacular, with a pleasing hint of film grain blanketing vivid colors, excellent fine detail, and a pleasing amount of depth. Artifacts can be glimpsed in black transition screens, but the only scene in which compression appears to have affected the presentation is an early one inside a room lit by red lights. Banding can be spotted very briefly, but is not a significant problem.
Audio-wise, we get 5.1 and 2.0 LPCM audio tracks. Much like the film itself, the 5.1 mix is intentionally subdued, designed to put the viewer in Hyun Jae's shoes in the early scenes, and then just to capture the grungy, cramped, oppressive environment she's stuck in throughout. The storage lockers she lives in have a certain hollow, cold echo that is perfectly reproduced here. Meanwhile, the haunting score by Jeramy Koepping and Joshua Morrison surrounds the viewer, trapping the viewer inside her story. For a film that's mostly about dialogue and environments, this is a really impressive, immersive mix. A sample of the 2.0 track is fairly underwhelming, with the music overwhelming other aspects of the mix. No subtitles or captions are included.
Director / co-writer Megan Griffiths, actors Jamie Chung and Matt O'Leary, and producers Colin Plank and Jacob Mosler sit down for an audio commentary. With so many participants, the conversation tends to jump around, with elements on screen sending the group off on tangents. Griffiths, Chung, and O'Leary all explain how they came onto the project and what it was like meeting and working with Chong Kim on the project, as well as recounting everything from the artistic genesis of particular scenes to anecdotes from the set. A little more casual and less focused than I expected (perhaps because of the tone of the film).
A multi-part making-of featurette (12:45, HD) stands out above a standard EPK by switching topics from the film to the subject of the film, as well as just generally featuring more insightful comments than the usual plot and character summaries.
A trailer for Mission to Lars is also included.
Although the ending is a little rote, Eden takes what many filmmakers would have turned into generic thriller material and captured something truly unsettling, getting at the core of a crime that is as prevalent today, in the United States, as it has ever been. Its goals are not to preach about prevention, but to spotlight the terrible decision facing the victims, to make the viewer uncomfortable at the very thought of what a victim would have to go through. In this regard, it is incredibly successful, thanks to Griffiths' direction and performances by a strong cast. Sadly, this disc is locked to Region B, meaning US viewers will have to own a multi-region player to see it, but this disc is highly recommended.
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