Steve (Michael Fassbender) picks girlfriend Jenny (Kelly Reilly) up from the school where she works. He's taking her away for a camping weekend, to an idyllic viewpoint he's visited before.

After stopping at a village B&B overnight, they drive to Eden Lake the following morning. It's a glorious day and, aside from the nearby construction work, Jenny is most impressed with what she sees: acres of unspoiled woodland and tall trees, with a secluded beach and peaceful lake at the centre.

The couple park up and walk down to the deserted beach, choose a spot for bathing and start with the heavy petting. Their mood is soured when they witness a group of youths teasing a younger boy. Jenny wants to intervene but Steve persuades her not to, fatefully reasoning "it's boys being boys - as long as they leave us alone".

But within minutes group leader Brett's (Jack O'Connell) rottweiler Bonnie has given Jenny a scare and the yobs have turned their music up loud. Steve wanders over to reason with them but is met with a barrage of verbal abuse.

At this point Jenny wants to leave but Steve refuses to back down, childishly insisting "we were here first". The kids leave shortly afterwards, and the loved up couple enjoy an incident-free night in their tent.

The following morning brings with it more sunshine and a puncture to one of Steve's tyres. He's certain the kids are responsible and finds an opportunity to confront them when he spies their BMX bikes outside a house in the nearby village. However, after almost being caught upstairs in the house by Brett's violent father, Steve and Jenny make a discreet getaway and vow to enjoy the rest of their weekend.

The couple enjoy the remainder of their afternoon on the beach, but when dusk comes and they can't find their car, Steve knows who's responsible. When he finds Brett's gang in the woods, he recognises his own sunglasses and mobile phone on Brett. Steve engages in a violent scuffle with the kids, leaving Bonnie bleeding and the yobs hungry for vengeance.

Steve and Jenny flee into the woods … but the kids are not far behind them.

EDEN LAKE is a strong contender for one of the finest homegrown horror efforts of the decade. It looks wonderful, filled with gorgeous locations and sun kissed scenery. The editing is slick while James Watkins' direction is assured enough to offer fluent storytelling without ever resorting to film school gimmickry (Rob Zombie et al, take note).

Performances are extremely good throughout, with the kids in particular shining through. It helps that they actually look their age - Thomas (THIS IS ENGLAND) Turgoose is among them, bleached blonde hair and swigging on spirits - adding to the believable malevolence that they exude. No CLASS OF 1984 men-in-their-late-20s-playing-schoolkids nonsense here.

Fassbender and Reilly are a plausible, well-suited couple too - there's real chemistry on the screen. As protagonists, they engage the viewer from the start and are easy to root for. The real star though is O'Connell, who is frighteningly convincing as the pointlessly brutal Brett - all surly face-pulling and usage of the "f" word in lazy place of "er"s and "um"s. I know this kid! I see him on every street corner!

As far as pacing goes, EDEN LAKE is expertly planned out. It kicks into its barebones plot quickly and after a measured build-up it cranks up the tension midway through with a particularly unpleasant torture scene before delivering non-stop action in the final half.

Although the pace never lets up during the final forty minutes, it's actually the first half that works better. Steve and Jenny are well fleshed-out and the mounting unease is skilfully applied. When the horror really kicks in, unfortunately Watkins resorts to conventional shock tactics and predictable gore set-pieces to compensate for a lack of destination. The final twist is testament to this: it helps bookend the film along with a couple of clumsy observational scenes at the opening, heavy-handedly reinforcing that it's all the parents' fault.

With such a thin (and topically potent) premise and a lean, mean script of his own to work from, Watkins may have been better served not offering an explanation for his wayward kids' behaviour. But then someone would've complained. You're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't …

Elsewhere, the usual clichés apply: Steve has an engagement ring tucked away that he plans to give to Jenny at some point: the local village is populated by weird, suspicious characters …

Oh, then there's the clichés about our hoodies: the peer pressures within the group; the girl filming the violence on her mobile phone; the kids referencing Tony Montana … all clichés because they're true, I suppose. But still clichés.

Still, these are minor quibbles in a film that looks fabulous and frequently grips. It's not overly explicit but manages to earn its 18 rating thanks to the solid performances that make it appear to be far more violent than it actually is. The most disturbing moment of the film is, arguably, the screams of a kid being burned offscreen. Powerful stuff.

The film is presented in a sublime 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that exhibits the lush cinematography and rich colours of the film perfectly. The widescreen compositions are a joy to behold and blacks are handled deftly in what can only be described as a faultless presentation.

English audio is available in 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. Audio is, as you'd expect, problem-free and finely balanced. Optional English subtitles are also on hand for the hard of hearing.

The promo screener disc provided didn't contain extras (these were later made available but that would've delayed the review until possibly the New Year - and I thought it best to get the review online?) but the retail disc is set to include the following:

Interviews with Watkins, Reilly, Turgoose, Fassbender and co-producer Christian Colson.

A behind-the-scenes featurette.

A Q&A documentary with Watkins.

TV spots, the original theatrical trailer and an "extreme" trailer.

Available from January 5th 2009 on both DVD and Blu-ray formats, Optimum's UK release looks fantastic and trumps the US release in the extras department. Recommended.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Optimum Home Entertainment
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review