As soon as the epigraph that opens Eden Log appears on the screen, ‘So the Lord God banished him from the garden of Eden to serve the ground from which he had been taken’ [Genesis 3.23.], you know that you’re in for a sci-fi movie with metaphysical pretensions along the lines of Cube.
Clovis Cornillac plays a man who wakes up naked in a cave with no idea of who he is or how he got there. Climbing out of the cave, he finds the entrance to a plantation where an automated orientation video tells him that if he wants to be admitted to paradise, he must tend to the tree (the Tree of Knowledge? the Tree of Life?) growing in the centre of the plantation. The video goes on to say that the tree’s sap is the source of enough energy to power a city. Not only that, but the sap makes the workers mining it down in the caves impervious to pain and fatigue. But where are all these workers? Unfortunately for Cornillac’s character, what’s really going on is that the tree absorbs energy from the workers by plunging its roots into them and if that doesn’t annihilate them, the sap turns them into mutants with a taste for human flesh.
Through this highly metaphorical plot, writer-director Franck Vestiel could be referring to organised religion as a system of control, or – as it’s later revealed that the workers are immigrants – he could be making a comment on the political expedience of crusades such as the war on terrorism. However, the religious/political references don’t really stand up to close scrutiny and the film is best enjoyed if they are just interpreted as an excuse for an atmospheric escape movie.
Atmospheric, but not exactly original. Fully aware of the history of the genre, Vestiel foregrounds his influences: the elevators used to take up the dead bodies that have been discarded by the tree like spent batteries are translucent cubes. But the film that Eden Log owes most too is Alien. There’s an Alien homage early on when Cornillac’s character finds a technician being eaten alive stuck to a wall. Endless corridors and hanging ducts represent the roots of the tree instead of the guts of a spaceship. Instead of stomachs bursting out, they are burst into by the tree’s roots. Like Ridley Scott, Vestiel relies on dimly lit, highly detailed sets to create atmosphere. Refreshingly, there’s no CGI in sight until the very last scene.
Because almost all the dialogue comes from the video recordings that Cornillac’s character encounters along the way, the DVD is able to boast both a French and an English version of the film. It seems like a great idea, allowing Vestiel to double his audience. However, it doesn’t quite work as not enough attention has been paid to the dubbing of the little dialogue that Cornillac does have, so you’re still better off watching the movie in French with English subtitles.