Sundance Film Review: Eileen – SLUG Magazine

Sundance Film Review: Eileen – SLUG Magazine

Sundance Film FestivalDirector: William Oldroyd

There was something about a nice grizzly noir tune that drew me in, and Eileen had hook, line, and plumb bob with me from the start. Thomasin McKenzie plays the titular young woman whose life in 1960s Boston is both a figurative and a literal prison. When Elieen isn’t working in the state pen where nobody speaks to her, she’s at home with her alcoholic father (Shea Whigham, Fancy Dance), who verbally abuses her. It’s a tough life for Eileen, at least until a tall, vivacious blonde comes into her life in the form of a new prison psychiatrist.

There’s something about Rebecca Saint John (Anne Hathaway) that draws Eileen to her like a magnet. Maybe it’s because Rebecca not only talks to Eileen, but treats her like a colleague and friend. Perhaps it is due to the remarkable charisma of the older, worldly women. Anyway, Eileen wants to be like (or with) Rebecca. This newfound light in a dark and lonely world brings Eileen out of her shell and she soon finds a sense of confidence she’s never felt before. The question of what the enigmatic Rebecca wants with Eileen turns out to be easier asked than answered, and our heroine finds herself in something far more complex than she ever imagined.

Director William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth) has a gift for atmospheric storytelling reminiscent of ’90s collaborations between Stephen King and Frank Darabont. Although Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel is a very different story from The Shawshank Redemption, it shares the film’s basic message of “Live busy or die busy”, although it takes a different direction and gives it a feminist twist.

A feast for the eyes, McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit, Last Night in Soho) seems to be finding her footing as a movie star here. Eileen is a smart, likable character who’s easy to cheer on, and McKenzie’s portrayal of her gradual transformation into a confident woman is quite compelling. Hathaway sizzles as a femme fatale, and it’s arguably her best performance in a few years. The film relies heavily on the chemistry of these two dynamic actresses, and it pays off well.

Eileen also benefits greatly from the narrative economy, sticking to a short running time that never lets the story skid. The outstanding production design and the atmospheric score by Richard Reed Perry are also important additions to the Plus column. The story has some disturbing elements and is certainly not uplifting. Eileen still has a distinctly empowering aspect that’s hard to resist

Eileen is an engaging, mushy distraction that sounds like an old-fashioned dime novel you never wanted to read but find you can’t put down. The film should not be underestimated as an artfully staged entertainment that takes quite interesting turns. —Patrick Gibbs

Playing times:

January 28, 8:15 p.m. / Megaplex Theaters at The Gateway 1/2/3

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