“Look after the plant, and the plant will look after you”
French director Franck Vestiel brings us a treat with his first feature film Eden Log, combining elements of horror, art-house, and futuristic sci-fi in this mysterious thriller that boasts a creative black and white visual style that is reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky’s Pi and Luc Besson’s The Last Battle. Like The Last Battle this movie is sparse on dialog, creating the world and storyline more through the actions of the characters (although it isn’t quite as devoid of dialog as the former). Vestiel has a strong eye for what he wants to put on screen, and this shows in the shadow-saturated underground sets and one scene in particular has stuck firmly in my mind – a video of a man talking being projected onto the face of his corpse so the features of the face in the video line up with the now still features of his dead face.
In the darkness of an underground cave a man wakes up, naked and covered in mud. His movements are picked out by the strobing illumination of a slowly pulsing flashlight attached to the clothing of a corpse. The man scrambles towards the light, obviously confused and disorientated, takes the torch and clothing, and moves out of the cave to figure out where he is. Soon he discovers that he is on sublevel four of Eden Log, an underground installation that apparently tends to a massive tree which has been harnessed as a power source for the city above. Each level of the installation is dedicated to a different task, and isolated from the other levels. In return for their dedicated work and loyalty the workers are promised a “passport” to the world above. But all is not well, as our amnesiac protagonist hears animal noises approaching through the darkness of the tree-root riddled installation and he finds more corpses.
Eden Log has had a starkly divided response, with some viewers revelling in the creativity, slow thoughtful pace, and lack of spoon-feeding of the story, while other viewers find it incredibly dull and unengaging. I’m not here to tell you what your response should be, however if you thought that Michael Bay’s Transformers was a brilliant film then move on – there’s nothing for your kind here. The viewers never know any more than the protagonist does here, and considering we’re talking about an amnesiac who woke up in a cave that really doesn’t leave much! We are on the journey with him, learning as he does and being as confused as he is.
Eden Log is shot on handheld cameras and, while not being entirely black and white, is heavily desaturated to the point of being practically black and white for almost the entirety of the movie. The set, makeup, and costumes have all benefitted from the attention of someone who has a clear vision of exactly what he wants to show on screen, and the audio (both music and other sounds) are integral to the story and atmosphere.
All in all Eden Log was a dark, gorgeous, and creative allegory of The Garden of Eden with the common sci-fi overtones of humanity’s exploitation of the natural world. While it is slow-moving, and I did head to Wikipedia for clarification on a couple of plot elements afterwards, I also found myself showing this movie to someone else and watching it again not two days later.