Still, despite this and the unfortunate title change, I remained intrigued by the film for the obvious intelligence and vision Griffiths brought to The Off Hours, a small-town slice of life that paved little new territory yet captured its characters and milieu with an admirable confidence and empathy. I was curious to see what the director would do next.
Turns out, quite a lot. Even with the overly familiar B-movie trappings, Eden is extremely effective, often in surprising ways. Griffith's approach--straightforward, unsentimental, devoutly humanistic--serves the material well. Central to this is Jamie Chung's smart, unlikely performance as Hyun Jae. A former MTV reality star and the go-to eye candy in movies like Grown-Ups and Sucker Punch, Chung serves notice that her talent goes beyond mere beauty. Navigating her character's evolution from terrified, braces-wearing victim to patient, calculating survivor, she never stops watching and learning, even during those soul-crushing moments confronting the hopelessness of her situation. As fear and willfulness give way to pragmatism, Chung never loses touch with the desperate girl beneath the increasingly resourceful woman. The tightrope her performance balances on is mirrored in the fragility of her character's plight, where every step of the way she must question how far she's willing to go to survive, and how much of her humanity it will cost her.
As the film takes on unexpected—and often violent—contours, the tension carefully builds, aided considerably by Sean Porter's soft, classically lit camerawork and an unobtrusive score that melts its way into scenes with emotional precision. There's a lushness to the sound and images that imparts a distinctly subjective, at times lyrical, viewpoint to moments that seem to otherwise unfold beneath an impartial documentary gaze. Griffiths has a real knack for imbuing her scenes with this tension in a way that remains subtle without putting you to sleep.
There's never any mistaking the good guys from the bad here, but it's a sign of the film's artistry that you find yourself wondering: Are men evil or just weak? Do they create the system they serve or does it create them? Can one regard a violent captor with compassion—just one more human coping with his own limitations? How much complicity is allowed in the name of survival? These may not be questions you'd expect to ask while watching a film with subject matter as black-and-white as human trafficking, but it's those shades of gray—and the performances behind them—that keep you riveted.