Eden Log is the latest example of post-Cube mystery storytelling, a small but interesting sub-genre in which one or more characters wake in strange and unfamiliar surroundings and become engaged in a struggle for survival and understanding, with information supplied to the audience only as it becomes clear to the characters. Previous candidates have included Frédéric Grousset's Aquarium and Tsukamoto Shinya's superb Haze, and it's Tsukamoto's film that's initially called to mind by this film's opening moments, as our leading man awakens alone and mud-covered in a dark, water-sodden cave with only a pulsing light to guide him. He quickly separates a working torch from the skeletal remains of its previous owner and makes his way to the battered remnants of an semi-computerised entranceway to who-knows-where. Having jerry-rigged the wiring to gain entry, he finds little in the way of comfort or answers, the world beyond proving a maze of wrecked corridors, broken technology and disturbing sounds.
His first encounter with a fellow human throws up even more questions when it's revealed that he not only doesn't know what has happened or where he is, but who he is either. The man he meets, who's pinned to the wall and being slowly consumed in a manner that will have a familiar ring to Alien fans, is surprised that our boy has survived at all and urgently advises him to leave. He doesn't. A peculiar ride in a translucent cube and a short walk later, he encounters the remains of a laboratory and a projected recording, one that gives hints of the disaster that befell the community who once inhabited this underground city. Pursued by guards in protective suits who provide an intriguing (and possibly misleading) hint to his identity, he subsequently does battle with a gang of angry mutants and is captured by a chemical suited botanist who, in a scene reminiscent of Brazil-era Terry Gilliam, talks about the effects of 'the plant' and persuades our man to participate in a most peculiar transfusion.
Since mystery is a key thrust of Eden Log, it would be unfair for me to elaborate further, but if you're going for the super-slow reveal then you not only need to keep the mystery itself captivating, but also make sure that the final revelation – if you're going to have one – lives up to the expectations you've created for it. To a large degree, Eden Log certainly meets the first of these demands. At 97 minutes it occasionally feels a little stretched, like an over-extended episode of Outer Limits, but some impressive production design and atmospheric lighting and sound work make the remnants of the Eden Log city a creepily interesting place to explore. Whole scenes play without dialogue and much of the talk that does occur is one-way, words spoken to our explorer rather than in conversation with him. But leading man Clovis Cornillac does well on physical expression, effectively communicating his frustration at being netted by the biologist and displaying resourceful desperation when constructing makeshift screens to view the lab's multi-angled video transmissions.
As for that second condition, the one that demands the explanation live up to the anticipation of what has gone before... well, it's built on a solid science fiction and ecological lineage, but is still just ambiguous enough on specifics to make it a difficult call on whether it resolves the mystery or merely continues it. I'm not sure it matters. Unconventional narratives almost demand unusual endings, and as the visually arresting one here proves, they don't have to be conclusive to provide the story with an peculiar sense of completion. It may not have the claustrophobic paranoia of Cube or the mindfuck intensity of Haze, but Eden Log looks and sounds good, puts its borrowings to interesting use, and on atmosphere and intrigue alone has a measurable edge on its more action driven recent genre compatriot Chrysalis.
A film whose visual style relies heavily on extremes of dark and light needs solid black levels and detailed highlights, and this transfer has both, the almost monochromatic and sometimes high contrast 1.85:1 image boasting a good level of detail and a pleasing tonal range. Some grain is visible and there are a few minor compression artefacts in some particularly low light shots, but this is never a major issue.
The picture upscales to HD screens well, losing only a little of its crispness and retaining the high contrast look and highlight detail of the CRT image. The compression artefacts in the low light shots, as you would expect, are far more pronounced here.
A very nice Dolby 5.1 surround track contributes well to the unnerving atmosphere of the early scenes, subtly sending distant wind and musical wails around the room and boasting some very distinct sound effects separation in places. Music makes the loudest use of the surrounds, but it's the atmos effects that use the LFE to the best effect. Clarity, as you'd expect, is never a problem.
Both English and French language tracks are available and we're not talking dubs here but spoken languages, at least for the scenes in which dialogue is visibly delivered – much of the film is talk free and a fair proportion of what does occur is delivered from behind masks or over speakers. The scenes in which you can see the characters speaking appear to have been shot in both French and English, hence the inability to switch languages on the fly (it has to be done via the main menu) and evidenced by the accurate matching of mouth movements to dialogue on both versions.
The same moment from both versions – the French language (left) and the English language (right)
This does lead to some minor variations in dialogue, performance and even framing between the two versions (see frame grabs above), but essentially the changes are too small to prompt a different reading of any of the scenes in question. For my money the French language track has the performance edge, being the first language of the two leads, and I've still a sneaking suspicion that a dub has been performed to the English language track to dilute or remove any French accents for the English speaking market.
Making Of (29:26)
Or at least that's what the DVD menu calls it. Actually titled Eden Log: To the Surface, this half-hour making-of documentary includes cast and crew recollections, behind-the-scenes footage and just a little bit of back-slapping, which is made perfectly tolerable by the information on the shoot and the locations that is offered up. The filming of the sequence involving the translucent cube comes across as pleasingly low-tech, though the rather po-faced and just occasionally self-important voice-over sometimes gives the whole thing the air of a deadly serious French TV arts programme.
A pretty good sell for the English language version that plays on the attractive strangeness of the imagery and gives little away.
Not quite as strange or original as first impressions might suggest, Eden Log is still a worthwhile entry into the post-Cube cycle of science fiction puzzles, scoring on it's visuals, atmosphere and minimalist approach to character and dialogue. Momentum's DVD sports a fine transfer, an OK extra feature and even a proper English language version for the subtitle phobic.