Some of you may remember (or not) that I had flu at the end of last year. Proper baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells flu. Well, said flu damaged my lungs a bit and so when I caught a cold last week it went straight to my chest and stayed there.
Seriously. My training is thoroughly jinxed this year.
However, there was a bright side. Just as I have a rule about taking a punt on music, I have a rule about taking a punt on DVDs, and a few months ago Amazon sent me one of their “You’ve shopped for these things and so we thought you’d like this” emails, in which the items on offer were cult science-fiction world cinema.
Anyway, one of the DVDs I picked up at that time, what with them all being less than a fiver, was an odd little number called Eden Log. Frood and I started watching it but it was quickly clear that it wasn’t Frood’s sort of thing so I put it away for a time when I could watch it myself. Being stuck at home ill was an ideal opportunity.
Eden Log is the 2007 directorial debut of Franck Vestiel. He also wrote the screenplay. If I had to summarise it, I’d say it was a cross between Pandorum and Silent Running with a bit of Logan’s Run thrown in for good measure. In reverse, if you can possibly imagine such a thing.
The film opens in the pitch black, and I mean pitch black. There is very little lighting and the lead character, impressively played by Clovis Cornillac and at this point nameless, is obviously freezing. The goosepimples on his arms look hard and prominent enough to grate ginger and the breath misting from his mouth has a realism that I don’t think could be achieved by CGI. Even his guttural grunts suggest the sort of forced vocalisation that anyone who has ever tried to exert physical effort while that bloody cold will remember all too clearly.
In what I think is a move that is either very brave or very French, the lighting remains intermittent, the colour scheme almost monochromatic, and the camera intimate for a considerable period while our protagonist finds his way to what appears to be an abandoned, dilapidated facility where he is greeted by an automatic message directed at newcomers. It talks of workers gaining citizenship by sacrifice and it is obvious, immediately, that there is some whitewashing going on here. It is pitched perfectly to alert the viewer to the desperation of the anonymous incomer: you know that whoever heard this for real would be so relieved to make it this far that he wouldn’t look for the small print.
As the film goes on it becomes clear that the “Eden” of the title is not achievable to those who approach from down here in the dark, and that, other than the ones running the place, those who derive the most benefit are kept in equal, if metaphorical, dark about what exactly is needed to sustain their quality of life, while those down below take mortal risks to provide it.
It is Yggrdrassil gone bad, a study in absurdo of what might happen if, in harnessing Nature, man should choose to use a martingale and the dregs of society as mulch.
Like many takes on this subject, including Hollywood budget-busters, as Man’s Disrespect for Mother Nature is a well-worn trail in storytelling, it over-simplifies and hand-waves the science and in places gets the science so wrong it becomes unintelligible. Couple this with the lack of exposition and reliance on metaphor and the film is, at times, horrendously confusing. But the performances of the two lead actors — the aforementioned Cornillac is particularly good, although Vimala Pons does as much as anyone could with the limited material available — are excellent and Vestiel’s determination to see what he started through to the end without mollycoddling his audience is admirable. I can’t even complain about the treatment of the female lead: there is one scene of rape that is so carefully done I could only quibble if I ignored the context entirely, and as this is a story entirely centred on Cornillac’s character I refuse to be upset about Pons getting less screen time. What she does get she puts to excellent use.
I confess I wasn’t entirely sure I’d grasped all of the story when it came to the end — like Valhalla Rising it left the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions about exactly how what happened actually happened. And, like Valhalla Rising, I looked it up afterwards because it was intriguing enough for me to want to know what other people had thought.
If you like your science fiction straightforward and your horror gory, leave this be. There’s no blasting off and nuking the place from orbit. There is no man vs monster. In this man is the monster, both figuratively and literally. There is scant dialogue and some viewers may find that there are sections where the use of hand-held cameras becomes a little nauseating, although it is not done for effect (it’s by far less irritating than it was in Cloverfield).
It’s not what I’d call a great film but it is an interesting one. The cast and crew cared about this, and it shows, despite the lack of resources available. It’s not as good as Moon but it’s many times better than most of the science-fiction films I have seen over the past few years. It’s a proper story, actually trying to say something, rather than a buffet of special effects and sexy actors pretending to kick ass in implausible scenarios.
Eden Log has the spirit of Aeon Flux the original series rather than Aeon Flux the movie.