Hyun Jae (Jamie Chung) is still a teenager. She works in her parents' store, steals cigarettes, and one night, hopes to have a little fun 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. Still, the film has to end somewhere, and a conventional ending doesn't obscure the heart of the film, 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.
The Video and Audio
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.
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.