Film Review: Eden

Tackling the most lurid of subjects, this schlocky shocker proves that sometimes female directors can be as exploitative as men.
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Hyun Jae (Jamie Chung), the 19-year-old daughter of Korean immigrants in New Mexico, finds herself in very hot water when she is abducted and made into a sex slave, forced into prostitution with other girls who must sell themselves for the profit of Bob Gault (Beau Bridges), a beyond-corrupt federal marshal. Renamed “Eden,” she dreams of escaping her terrifying, brutal existence and makes some failed attempts to flee, but eventually acquiesces enough to the point where she helps Vaughan (Matt O’Leary), a drug addict in the employ of Gault, to catch other would-be runaways.

With an initially less-than-sensationalistic approach and the assuring presence of Bridges in the cast, one begins to hope that Eden will be a serious and sensitive, as well as satisfyingly dramatic, handling of the horrific subject of human trafficking. Chung seems to be giving a well-observed performance and the scenes of violent treatment of women are not oppressively graphic...at first. But when Eden makes her one big attempt at escape by chomping down on the genitals of a client and is apprehended, her mouth garishly dripping blood she has somehow not managed to swipe away, I groaned inwardly and muttered, “Trash!”

Chung’s performance has a kind of emotional remove I first considered to be canny underplaying, but it’s simply insufficient to convey the Stockholm syndrome type of trauma Eden is obviously going through, given all the frustratingly easy chances she is later given to escape. And, really, has Stockholm syndrome ever been convincingly portrayed on the screen? (Patty Hearst, anyone?)

Director and co-writer Meg Griffiths’ serious feminist intentions seem to have gotten sidetracked by the sensationalistic aspects of her story, based on a true account by a survivor of sex trafficking, Chong Kim. The character of Vaughan, as played by O’Leary, is so manic and bug-eyed, he pulls things down to a distinctly B-level of exploitation. The scenes involving Eden’s more tender relationship with a young Latina expectant mother (Jeanine Monterroza), also held in the sex pen, have that cheesy Lifetime movie sentimentality.

Eden is often strikingly photographed and Bridges brings a smooth professionalism to his odious role, with an appropriately lurid finish, but the film could have used more scope. Griffiths never shows Eden’s parents during the entire period of her ordeal, worrying or wondering about her—although she does haul her mother in for a tear-jerking ending.