SXSW FILM 2012
By Linc Leifeste | March 13, 2012
Director: Megan Griffiths
Writers: Megan Griffiths, Chong Kim (story), Richard B. Phillips (screenplay)
Starring: Jamie Chung, Matt O’Leary, Beau Bridges, Jeanine Monterroza, Scott Mechlowicz, Tantoo Cardinal, Eddie Martinez, Naama Kates
One of the more conventional narrative films I’ve seen at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival, Eden also presents one of the most disturbing and harrowing stories I’ve witnessed, all the more so because it’s based on a true story. Inspired by Chong Kim’s abduction and forced entry into a child slave sex ring operating right here in the United States, the films serves as an eye-opening cautionary tale and hopefully helps to provide a voice for the many silent victims of this type of violence.
Jamie Chung’s performance in the title role is revelatory. The naive teenage daughter of a hard-working immigrant family in New Mexico, she decides to join a friend on an ill-fated outing to a local bar using a fake ID. There she is wooed by a man pretending to be a fire fighter (Scott Mechlowicz) who, after a few drinks, offers to give her a ride home only to instead hand her off to Mario (Eddie Martinez), part of a vast sex ring being operated by corrupt U.S Marshall Bob Gault (Beau Bridges). Soon she finds herself in a secretive Vegas-area desert facility operated by the traffickers, where she is sedated as her braces are removed and a tracking bracelet is attached to her ankle and she is rechristened Eden.
Surrounded by the ever-present threat of violence with the occasional shocking display of the real thing, Eden’s initial impulses to fight back and flee are eventually reined in as we watch her learn to navigate through her new reality in order to survive. Eden ultimately manages to win favor with Vaughan (Matt O’Leary), Marshall Gault’s right-hand man and “manager” of the sex slave operations, ultimately becoming his trusted assistant, allowing her the leeway to finally make her escape. While Chung gives a powerhouse performance in the lead, she is mildly upstaged by O’Leary’s impressive turn as a drug addicted criminal in over his head, alternating between ambition and ambivalence, his conscience seemingly a thing of the past.
Where I found the film a bit underwhelming was in its conventional presentation, from its linear and straightforward storytelling to its professional but nondescript visual style. While moved and disturbed by the story I was seeing, a story that was new to me, I couldn’t quite shake the sensation that I’d seen all of this before. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly; maybe it’s just hard to accept that there’s a true story behind this horrific tale although I know that’s the case. I just don’t want it to be true. Also, as great at it was to see Beau Bridges ably ply his trade as a thoroughly corrupt and evil crime lord, there was something about his character that felt somehow stock and unoriginal. That said, it all works more than it doesn’t, and there are some very memorable scenes and powerful images that will stick with you long after you leave the theater.
In presenting a dark, depressing story that needs to be told, director Megan Griffiths has performed an admirable balancing act in managing to effectively convey the requisite violence, horror and depravity without gratuitous violence or sexual content, thus increasing the odds that this film will be seen by a mass audience.