When All is Lost
by Mark Dispenza
Eden, based on the true life story of Chong Kim, captures the terror and loss of hope faced by victims of human trafficking.
Kim, who escaped captivity against the odds after two horrifying years of sexual slavery, decided to tell her story publicly after she noted that the majority of Americans believe that trafficking is something that happens only to foreign girls, not the girl next door in the United States. She contributed to the screenplay by director Megan Griffiths, from a story crafted by fellow contributor, Rick Phillips Jr.
Chong was an 18-year-old Korean-American teen working in her parents' shop when she was kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery in 1995. She was selected because the traffickers thought she was younger than her actual age. Let that sink in a moment.
In the film the traffickers force her to break completely with her past and lose all hope of rescue, using a very effective combination of both physical and psychological torture. She is given a new name - Eden. Actress Jamie Chung does a great job of conveying Eden's psychological state during each stage of her captivity.
She is a spunky girl and spends the early months repeatedly defying the traffickers and causing as much trouble as she can. After the point is made, the story mercifully jumps forward to one year later, sparing us the awful details of how the traffickers ultimately break her spirit to resist. They give us a taste of that horror, and it's all that's needed to make the point.
Eden survives the second year by playing along with the traffickers and working hard to win their confidence. The more they trust her, the more she will be allowed access to places that might open opportunities for escape, and that turns out to be the smart move, as escape she does, but not until long after she has experienced horrors that will undoubtedly leave her psychologically scarred for life.
The filmmakers chose to tell this story without resorting to the graphic detail of torture and sex scenes. Like a horror movie that relies more on psychological terror than gore, they get their message across effectively without forcing the audience to look away. In fact it is difficult to look away, as each new plot twist draws viewers deeper into this world and leave them wondering how Eden can possibly cope with each new setback.
Beau Bridges is chilling in his portrayal of trafficker, Bob Gault, who is a US marshal assigned to stop the very business he's engaged in. Gault travels around talking to local police departments about how to identify and apprehend sex offenders. In a twist of irony, he tells them in one scene how perpetrators can look like anyone, particularly a trusted member of the community.
Matt O'Leary does a great job of portraying drug-addicted, war veteran bad guy, Vaughan, in all of his complexity. He is a volatile personality, forcing Eden to work hard to win his trust during his more lucid moments, while keeping him at arms link during his frequent descents into depraved cruelty.
Griffiths does an excellent job in straddling the line between depicting the horrors of sexual slavery and crossing over into exploitation. She makes her point by making sensitive choices about a subject in which sensitivity is lost. SXSW rewarded the Sundance veteran last year after the film's premiere with the festival's Narrative Feature Award, along with a special recognition to Jamie Chung for her performance.
Eden is currently in limited release in the USA, but is also currently available for download on iTunes, Amazon and Vudu.