Feb 02, 2023
By Kaveh Jalinous
William Oldroyd’s Eileen is a slow-paced, surprisingly twisty thriller built upon two great performances and a fascinating script. The film is an adaptation of famed author Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel of the same name.
Set in 1960s Massachusetts, Oldroyd’s film centers around Eileen (Thomas McKenzie), a shy and reserved 24-year-old woman who works at a prison. Living with her father (Shea Whigam), an alcoholic ex-cop, Eileen spends her days caring for those around her, hiding her intense desire to experience the more taboo parts of life. Things all change when she meets Rebecca St. John (Anne Hathaway), a new psychiatrist working at the prison.
Eileen and Rebecca instantly hit it off, and the two begin to spend more time with one another, both at and outside of work. In Eileen’s eyes, Rebecca’s lifestyle perfectly embodies the one she desires: one filled with mystery, intensity and, above all, riskiness. As she learns more about Rebecca, including her odd therapeutic practices, Eileen begins to fall in love with her new acquaintance. But, as she quickly discovers, Rebeca’s intentions are more complicated than they initially appeared.
Eileen is a deeply slow-burning film. The first act introduces audiences to Eileen’s daily routine, hammering in at the mundaneness of her job and home life. The film’s visual style echoes this idea, relying on simple shots and cuts to show the snowy Massachusetts winter. Once Rebecca enters the story, the script slowly increases in intensity as Eileen begins to adopt a more daring lifestyle–getting drunk at the bar, carrying her father’s gun around and sticking up for herself. Nothing that happens during the film’s first half, while entertaining, is too off-putting or unexpected. One thing is clear, though: every moment in the script has been calculated to the smallest detail.
The reasons for Eileen‘s style pay off in a matter of seconds when a single line delivered in the film’s second half completely changes everything audiences thought they knew about the characters, the general direction of the story and the film’s themes. From that point, Eileen maintains its slow-burning style but becomes a sinister look at the secrets people hold and how people come to terms with the consequences of their decisions. Oldroyd does not rely on visuals or intensely directed sequences to shock and disturb viewers–the script achieves those feats itself.
To this extent, it’s easy to understand why Eileen is currently dividing audiences at Sundance, and why it will probably continue to divide audiences as more people see the movie. If one is willing to wait for the narrative to unfold itself, there’s a lot to enjoy in the swings that the story eventually takes. If not, the film will probably just come off as a drab and failed exercise in trying to manufacture tension.
Author rating: 7/10
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