“Innocence isn’t lost, it’s stolen.”
Director: Megan Griffiths
Cast: Jamie Chung, Beau Bridges, Matt O’Leary
Synopsis: A young Korean-American girl, abducted and forced into prostitution by domestic human traffickers, joins forces with her captors in a desperate plea to survive.
Megan Griffiths’ Eden begins in darkness with the muffled sound of radio music over a woman’s stifled sobs. The music stops and light floods the screen as we realise that the woman’s captor has just opened the boot of the car into which she has been bundled. It’s a strong opening, one that suggests an unpleasant, nose-in-the-dirt movie to come, but, despite its lurid subject matter of innocents abducted into the sex slave trade in the good ol’ US of A, Eden consistently glosses over the horror of its heroine’s desperate situation so that we end up watching a sanitised TV version of an altogether more visceral movie. It’s reputedly based on a true story but, given the lack of verifiable information available on the internet regarding the case of Chong Kim, that claim has to be taken with a huge pinch of salt.
A flashback fills us in on just how nineteen-year-old Chong ended up in the boot of that car. Sneaking into a bar with a friend, the innocent Korean-American, who still wears braces on her teeth, is picked up by an off-duty firefighter who drives her to a deserted supermarket car park. Chong gets suspicious when another car pulls up behind them and makes a run for it, but she’s not quick enough, and wakes up in a corrugated shed which turns out to be home to around fifty young girls, all of whom have been forced into prostitution by an organised crime ring. The ring is headed by the avuncular Bob Gault (Beau Bridges – The Descendants), a senior police officer who leaves the day-to-day running of the operation to his barely-competent sidekick, Vaughan (Matt O’Leary – The Lone Ranger). With little hope of escape – the shed is situated in the middle of the desert – Chong realises she must gain her captor’s trust if she is ever to return to her previous life.
It’s a shame we don’t see more of Bridges, because his character is by far the most intriguing. We first meet him as he happens upon a fellow officer and a civilian standing over the body of a dead girl in the desert. He pulls over, and after first determining that the officer hasn’t yet radioed in his find, unhesitatingly shoots both men. This scene, like the film’s first, is one that grabs the audience’s attention and raises all manner of questions, but once again Griffith shies away from delving too deeply, and instead of shaping up to be a memorable villain, Gault is relegated to the status of supporting player as the far less intriguing Vaughan takes centre stage. Now, here’s a guy you wouldn’t leave in charge of your record collection let alone a large number of girls all desperate to get away. He loses girls the way the sleeping lose track of time, and wouldn’t last five minutes in a genuine criminal organisation.
The film does manage to hold our attention, though, and it’s interesting the way that Eden doesn’t remain a squeaky-clean innocent throughout. With a little more depth of characterisation she could have been a truly intriguing character, but although she does some bad things to survive, we’re always given the impression that she’s still a good girl underneath, and that she’s not really being changed in any meaningful way by the sordid experiences she’s forced to endure. It’s a shame: the set-up’s good and there’s plenty of potential for a solid, meaty thriller, but Griffiths pulls her punches too many times for Eden to make any positive long-lasting impression.
(Reviewed 22nd May 2015)