Dating back to 1920s Hollywood and beyond, some films were known as "social problem" or "message" movies. From alcoholism and drug abuse to racism and juvenile delinquency, these earnest works arrived in a fairly steady stream until the exploitation films of the 1960s and '70s — masquerading as message movies — tacitly encouraged audiences to enjoy all the bad behavior happening on screen. There's little explicit violence and no sex in co-writer/director Megan Griffiths' harrowing Eden, though the film does an excellent job illuminating the horrors of modern human trafficking. This practice, in which preteen girls are kidnapped and forced into sex slavery, is widely described as the world's fastest-growing criminal enterprise, second only to drugs in profitability. That's a message worth spreading. But it's nothing short of excruciating to see that world depicted in a feature film.
It comes as no small relief when Eden's first act — in which an innocent girl (Jamie Chung) gradually accepts her unspeakable fate — shifts focus and gives way to a fairly typical crime thriller. Beau Bridges turns in a strong performance as the astonishingly corrupt lawman behind the evil business, and the story (based on real-life events) delivers some catharsis if you stay with it until the end. But this is no one's idea of a good time at the movies. — KEN KORMAN