Are you a helicopter mom? A doting dad? Proud parent? Then “Eden,” the shocking, complex drama from Seattle director Megan Griffiths, is either a must see – or an absolute stay-away. Child sex trafficking isn’t a cozy, comfortable topic… but folks, it’s real as rain.
According to CIA reports, as many as 50,000 women and children are trafficked each year in the U.S. alone. Shady, discreet networks stockpile their “products” in desert warehouses, then pimp them out to frat parties, “gentleman’s clubs,” porn shoots, and worse. How is this despicable cycle allowed to flourish?
It’s simple, explains Griffiths in matter-of-fact resignation. “There’s a demand.”
Griffiths, a smiling, friendly brunette with impeccable tact, has agreed to join me at Uptown Espresso, a comfy coffee café nestled in the rain-soaked streets of Seattle’s Queen Anne district. A few steps up the block, “Eden” has just screened at SIFF, and Griffiths doesn’t seem the least bit haggard, even after participating in a lengthy Q & A that followed her film.
“Eden” is one of those movies that you hope is NOT “based on a true story.” Unfortunately, confirms Griffiths, it’s the real deal. In 1994, a Korean-American teenager named Chong Kim was abducted by an elaborate ring of sex traffickers, transported to Nevada, and forced into prostitution. Using a fictional heroine, “Eden” provides a vicarious, dramatized tour of the living hell that Kim endured.
In “Eden” Hyun Jae (Jamie Chung) is introduced as an unexceptional, ordinary 19-year old living with an intact, adoring family. When her mall-bunny friend supplies Hyun with a fake ID, both girls visit a bar, sip booze, and attract the attention of a frisky fireman. It isn’t long before Hyun is whisked away by this smooth Casanova, who promises her a considerate drive home.
She never arrives.
Instead, Hyun is bound, gagged, tossed into the trunk, and transported to a jail-like holding facility, which she shares with a dozen other female prisoners. Like cattle, the girls are driven to wherever there’s a demand for debauchery. Griffiths provides us with a straight-up version of this journey. She’d rather show than tell, and the film’s clinical details, including the girls lining up for drug injections and pregnancy tests like inmates in a Cuckoo’s Nest for teens, induce chills.
After darting across the street to feed a parking meter, Griffiths explains that each character in her film has an intricately-written back-story. These complex histories aren’t necessarily explained onscreen, but the humans inhabiting “Eden” are so utterly real, this technique works wonders.
“When I first got the script,” explains the director, “I did a revision of it. The first thing I did was write back-stories for everybody who worked at the (holding) facility, because I needed to figure out what landed them there. They’re all based on combinations of real people, but I approached it as a narrative. For me to even start writing in this world, I had to understand these characters. I didn’t want to make a film full of one-dimensional bad guys.”
Nor is “Eden” interested in stock heroes. There’s no Liam Neeson to conveniently jump in, snap antagonist’s necks, and save the day. Instead, a savvy heroine is forced to live by her wits, and serve up a slice of her soul, to survive. Lead actress Chung is superb – vulnerable, tough, and resilient during different stops on her terrible journey.
Every year, there’s a SIFF movie that knocks my socks off and resonates into the summer. “Let the Right one In.” “Audition.” “Anvil: the Story of Anvil.” Thus far, “Eden” nabs this position for SIFF 2012. The more I reflect back on this troubling stunner, the more I think it might qualify as brilliant. Stay tuned for more conversations with Griffiths – and more SIFF.