Eileen opens in theaters December 1. This review is part of our Fantastic Fest 2023 coverage.
A Prickly and Empowering Story
Within the smooth surface of Eileen lies a prickly layer. Screenwriters Luke Goebel and Ottessa Moshfegh, a husband-and-wife team adapting Moshfegh’s 2015 novel, use a period-set, lovesick story to confront gender oppression in the 1960s through the gaze of two women. Director William Oldroyd skillfully transitions from a seductive psychological thriller to a tale of budding sexuality, subverting expectations with a mighty swerve.
A Mesmerizing Performances
Thomasin McKenzie’s performance as the mousy and repressed New Englander Eileen Dunlop is mesmerizing. She portrays Eileen’s buttoned-up lifestyle at work and home, where she takes care of her drunkard ex-cop father, while hiding racier desires and fantasizing about raunchy sexual encounters. Anne Hathaway shines as Harvard psychologist Rebecca, a knockout ready to challenge the misogynistic boy’s club at Eileen’s workplace. Their mentor-pupil relationship explores healthy sexual appetites as well as attraction based on power and status.
A Villainous Father Figure
Shea Whigham delivers a quintessential portrayal of toxic ’60s masculinity as Eileen’s alcoholic and belittling father. Whigham’s character becomes the evil Eileen must conquer to escape her demoralizing homestead. Comparatively, Rebecca appears as a lipstick-pretty saint. The audience becomes hypnotized by Rebecca’s charming dominance, eagerly hoping for Eileen’s fairytale rescue.
The film turns our inherent desire to seek out hope against us by smuggling a thriller under the cover of a romantic dramedy.
A Cleverly Concealed Thriller
Eileen is a film that deceives its audience by initially presenting itself as a romantic dramedy set in 1960s Massachusetts. The period sharpness and witty dialogue distract viewers until a loaded pistol appears, revealing the true nature of the story. Director William Oldroyd cleverly leaks out the story’s nastiest tendencies, keeping the audience on edge.
An Underwhelming Twist
While Moshfegh and Goebel skillfully build suspense throughout Eileen’s journey of self-discovery, the ultimate twist in the third act lacks impact. The ambiguous connection between Rebecca and Eileen, which initially captivates, falls somewhat short in the climactic moments. The chase, Eileen’s pursuit of Rebecca, proves more engaging than the payoff. It seems that the novel may handle the resolution better.