Real-World Horror, Film-World Triumph
Megan Griffiths's Brilliant Eden Makes Humane Art Out of Inhumanity
Searching for a reference point for the experience of watching Eden, the razor-sharp human-trafficking drama directed by Seattle filmmaker Megan Griffiths, I'm repeatedly brought back to the world of horror. Being led into the depths of Eden feels like nothing so much as following Clarice Starling into that pitch-black basement at the end of The Silence of the Lambs—only in Eden, the villains aren't cartoon psychopaths. They're terrifyingly average fellow humans who've somehow found a way around whatever it is inside of us that objects to kidnapping, rape, slavery, and murder. And in Eden, that trapped-in-a-basement-with-monsters terror isn't reserved for the thrilling climax. It emanates from virtually every frame of the film, which methodically follows a teenage American girl (dubbed "Eden" by her captors) as she's forced to survive in the world of underage sex trafficking. The result is a stark, suspense-packed horror film that offers its most terrifying fact before the action begins: "Based on a true story."
Over the past year, Stranger readers have heard a lot about Eden, which premiered at the 2012 South by Southwest festival, earned a slew of honors at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival (including a best actress award for Jamie Chung), and played a primary role in Megan Griffiths winning the 2012 Stranger Genius Award for film. Now that Eden's landed a proper cinematic run, I must reiterate what we've been saying for a year: Eden is a miracle. Not only is it an Issue Film that could feasibly inspire real-world change (at the very least, no one who sees Eden will ever look at women in "amateur pornography" the same way again), it's a veritable master class in how to make humane art out of inhumanity. Griffiths navigates the horrifying facts of her film with great respect, not only for her subjects, but for her audience, which she trusts to fill in the film's awful ellipses. (Rather than rub the audience's face in every punishing detail of the underage sex trade, Griffiths wisely restricts Eden's viewpoint to Eden's viewpoint—we see what she sees, and learn about this world as she does.)
Still, a ferociously intense movie about fundamentally upsetting subject matter can be a tough sell to the entertainment-seeking masses, which is why I will now list three reasons why all film-loving humans must see Eden.
It's a masterwork of suspense that will keep you riveted in a last-20-minutes-of-Fargo way for the duration of its 90-minute running time.
Because of this suspense and the deeply repellent subject matter, Eden is best seen in a cinema, surrounded by your fellow humans, who will help you bear the suspense and commiserate with you over the horror. (I'll be at the 7 p.m. show on Saturday, May 4, after which I'll be interviewing Megan Griffiths onstage.)
As Stranger writer and filmmaker Charles Mudede communicated to me after he first saw Eden, Seattle has produced a number of highly impressive films, but Eden is the best one yet. If anything will offset Eden's lessons about the depravity of man, it's pride that such a powerful piece of art was made by a Seattle artist. Go see it.
Eden plays May 3–15 at SIFF Cinema Uptown, siff.net.