THE STORY – Based on the book of the same name by literary powerhouse Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen follows a peculiar young woman whose dreary life stretches on toward unending misery. In frigid 1960s Boston, Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie) shuffles between her father’s dingy, emotionally haunted home and the prison where she works alongside colleagues who have ostracized her. When an intoxicating woman (Anne Hathaway) joins the prison staff, Eileen is taken. Just when the possibility of a salvational friendship (or maybe more) takes hold and forms a singular glimmer in Eileen’s darkness, her newfound confidant entangles her in a shocking crime that alters all.
THE CAST – Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland & Owen Teague
THE TEAM – William Oldroyd (Director), Luke Goebel & Ottessa Moshfegh (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 97 Minutes
William Oldroyd’s standout directorial debut, “Lady Macbeth,” a Victorian-set drama starring the wonderful Florence Pugh, put him on the map for crafting a thrilling drama with a complex female character at the helm. Ever since 2016, fans have been anxiously awaiting his second film. “Eileen,” just like his debut, delivers a few unexpected thrills and twists.
With “Eileen,” Oldroyd finds a way to blend Alfred Hitchcock’s signature style with hints of Todd Haynes’ “Carol” in this sleek and sultry film about two women whose lives end up more intertwined than they could have imagined. And just like many of Hitchcock’s famous films, “Eileen” goes in a direction you could never have expected.
The film oozes sultry noir vibes from the start, as we’re introduced to Eileen (Thomasin Mckenzie), who sits in her smoky car and watches people make out by a foggy, cold waterfront. As she keeps them in her view, she grows increasingly lustful, grabs a handful of dirty snow, and puts it down her pants to masturbate. (Talk about a cold open.)
Though Eileen may appear to be quite the wildcard at first, she lives a lonely, sad, and repressed life in a frigid 1960s Boston. The 24-year-old works at a prison, where she’s either fending off rude comments from her superiors or fantasizing about having sex with a guard (Owen Teague). She also lives with her father (Shea Whigham), a retired police officer who drinks and threatens the neighborhood with his gun. A loving relationship between the two is nonexistent. At one point, her father tells her there are two types of people in the world, “the ones making moves, the ones you watch,” and “the ones just filling space.” Unfortunately, he lumps his daughter into the latter.
Then one day, Rebecca (Anne Hathaway) arrives. The gorgeous, confident blonde is the new psychologist at the prison, though she should honestly be a movie star. With her seductive glances, beautifully fitted suits, and natural charisma, it’s hard not to fall in love with her, and Eileen is immediately smitten. She even starts changing her appearance to try to capture Rebecca’s sultriness. Hathaway is captivating and commanding in every scene, to the point that you want more of her the second the camera moves away from her. Mckenzie does a solid job standing on her own as this mousey character. The chemistry between Eileen and Rebecca is very reminiscent of “Carol,” in which Rooney Mara’s Therese is enchanted by an older woman.
As the two women get to know each other more, they both share a fixation on one of the inmates, Lee Polk (Sam Nivola), who killed his cop father. Rebecca wants to know the root cause of the incident and tries to get answers from his mother (Marin Ireland). Eileen, in a way, seems to understand the young man’s choice, often fantasizing about blowing her father’s brains out, as well as her own, in quite a few gotcha, jump-scare scenes.
After almost an hour into the film, viewers might start wondering where it’s all ultimately going because, for the most part, not much has happened. We get hints of a possible romance between these women – especially when they go out for drinks, and Rebecca touches Eileen’s leg and dances with her – but nothing more has happened between them. Well, you’re not ready for when Rebecca invites Eileen over for a Christmas Eve celebration and ends up dropping quite the revelation (which we won’t spoil here). All we’ll say is that it’s a continuation of the Polk narrative that brings the two women even closer together and includes an incredible monologue from Ireland. It’s a storyline that comes out of left field and is a massive departure from everything that led up to that point, particularly how we see our two main characters behave. It’s certainly not a bad addition because the story itself lacks action, but the way it plays out is so poorly executed. Scenes feel rushed, and everything wraps up in a lackluster manner that ends disappointingly.
Many of the crafts in “Eileen” deserve praise for the way they bring this 1960s film to life. Olga Mill’s beautiful period costumes perfectly complement the characters’ personalities and the changes they’re going through, especially when Eileen changes her style. Cinematographer Ari Wegner also evokes the noir era with a grainy look, while Richard Reed Parry’s jazzy score amplifies the film’s different moods.
Even though “Eileen” has its ups and downs, it’s another enjoyable watch from Oldroyd, who continues to champion stories about complex women who surprise us in many ways. It might be some time before his next film, but he already has us excited for more.