Eden, which premiered at SXSW Film Festival in 2012 and won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature, is loosely based on the real life experiences of Chong Kim, who co-wrote the story.
Megan Griffiths directs Jamie Chung (who won Special Jury Recognition for Best Actress) as Hyan Jae, introduced as a sweet, naive teenager living with her parents and helping out in their store. However this life is snatched away from her after she gets chatting to a charming, handsome fireman at a bar and accepts his seemingly innocent invitation to drive her home.
Knocked unconscious, locked in the boot of a car and later drugged she eventually arrives at a high security bunker where she is stripped of her identity, renamed ‘Eden’ and imprisoned with many other anonymous young girls. Shortly after the story cuts to a year into her enslavement, depicting her struggle to adapt and survive against all odds.
The film is not gratuitous; there is no nudity or sex on screen – it is mostly implied, which does make viewing easier however that is not to say we are spared from the girls torment. Shot from Eden’s perspective we are exposed to the demands of her clients, the horrendously intrusive living conditions and the obscene torture enforced on the girls if they fail to meet demands.
What is perhaps most disturbing is the captors complete lack of empathy, their ability to rationalize their actions and create normal lives for themselves outside of this heinous operation led by corrupt US Marshall Bob Gault (Beau Bridges) who at times acts as though he is some generous benefactor, unsettling in his ability to undermine the girls confidence through glimpses of kindness before earth shattering cruelty. After a failed escape attempt Eden begins to look elsewhere for a way out, succeeding in slowing gaining the trust of those in charge, particularly Vaughan (Matt O’Leary), a disturbed young junkie looking to move up the ranks but often belittled by Bob, much to his chagrin.
The subject of human trafficking has been explored in various on screen depictions, but what makes Eden stand out is that it breaks the illusison that this is a distant issue, one which could not touch a first world country and less so be financed by its Johns; the businessman, husbands and college students unknowingly soliciting coerced participants. Chong Kim herself was prompted to tell her tale after hearing an expert at a convention state that this could not happen to a US citizen.
The acting is terrific, especially from Chung although from a narrative perspective some details are a little sketchy; threats of relocation, the implied disposal of girls of a certain age and the dealings with pregnancy aren’t quite explored to the extent that they should have been.
Some have criticised Eden for being overly convenient or exaggerated for entertainment’s sake, however for this it can be forgiven as very few ‘based on’ tales stick entirely to the source material, and in this instance Grittiths’ succeeds in giving us a raw and harrowing tale raising awareness of an issue which is all the more frightening in its authenticity.
Eden is due to be released in UK cinemas on July 19th. See trailer below.