Eileen Review: A Must-See Sexy Psychological Thriller

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Summary

  • Eileen captivates with its moody atmosphere and compelling performances, particularly from Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway.
  • The film focuses on the growing connection between a prison secretary and a prison psychiatrist, resulting in a satisfying and shocking climax.
  • Director William Oldroyd brings the desolate world of Eileen to life through visually striking shots and metaphorical elements, making it a must-see thriller.


Eileen is a moody and downright captivating psychological thriller. Director William Oldroyd drops us into a dreary winter in 1964 Massachusetts where the setting and most of its characters are cheerless and just getting by. But one unique albeit unlikely connection between two lost souls changes everything.

Based on the gripping novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, the plot chronicles a young prison secretary named Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie of Totally Completely Fine and Jojo Rabbit), who becomes fixated on the glamorous new psychologist named Rebecca St. John (Anne Hathaway of The Devil Wears Prada and The Dark Knight Rises) at the prison where she works. A friendship forms, but things get twisted when Rebecca uncovers a dark secret, which ultimately sends Eileen down an even darker path.

Eileen is directed by William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth) and written by Moshfegh and Luke Goebel (Causeway). Between its tight, well-edited script and the stellar performances of its two leads, this is storytelling at its finest.


Eileen Builds to a Memorable Climax

Eileen
Eileen

Release Date
December 8, 2023

Director
William Oldroyd

Rating
R

Runtime
1hr 37min

Eileen Dunlop is not a happy gal. She has returned to her small New England town to care for her ailing father (Shea Whigham), a fallen cop who sits home all day drinking, hoping to numb his grief. The two are not especially close, but, let’s say they understand each other. Father-daughter talks are chilly at best — nothing like pops sharing how he has imagined his daughter would commit suicide. Eileen brushes it off. Same old, same old, after all.

Eileen may lack confidence and feel trapped, but she is curious and aware. She’s also sexually awake but not satisfied. She’ll watch a couple go at it in the backseat of the car nearby or fantasize about a prison guard shoving her up against a glass wall and satisfying her, but she’s never really had intimate experiences in real life.

Things shift upon the arrival of the prison’s new psychologist, Dr. Rebecca St. John, an attractive, heavily lipsticked fascination, especially in Eileen’s eyes. Eileen is shocked that Rebecca befriends her, and during a girls’ night out at the bar, she becomes even more fixated on this marvelous creature, who seems truly out of place in Eileen’s otherwise gray and lifeless world.

Related: 15 Movies That Explore Father/Daughter Relationships

Ottessa Moshfegh’s book leaned heavily into events played out in the titular character’s fantasies. However, the film version trims back on some of that, opting to focus more on the growing connection between Eileen and Rebecca in real-time. It’s a thoroughly satisfying result, and as the two further bond over a sketchy case involving Lee Polk (Sam Nivola), a teenage boy who has been locked up in their youth prison for stabbing his father to death while he slept, the story forks off somewhat, allowing things to slowly build to a shocker that may leave you breathless.

The Showstopping Acting in Eileen

If you’ve seen Last Night in Soho, Jojo Rabbit, or Totally Completely Fine, you already know what Thomasin McKenzie is capable of as an actress. Like Anne Hathaway before her, the woman fully loses herself in the characters she plays. Eileen is perfectly suited for her. It’s a gem of a role, and she breathes into Eileen a captivating mix of sourness and hope, however twisted that hope ultimately becomes. There’s a moment in the latter part of the film when Eileen listens intently as one character reveals a horrifying truth. The young girl’s eyes widen in fascination with shock and, perhaps, a craving to hear more.

Anne Hathaway ignites every scene she occupies here, breezily moving about with a fascinating mix of grace and grit. Think 1960s-era blonde bombshell who happens to be the smartest and most well-lived human in the room. Watching Eileen immediately calls to mind her other transformational roles — from the embittered wife in Brokeback Mountain to Fantine in Les Misérables. She so smoothly occupies Rebecca’s skin here, that it’s hard to tell the two women apart. Hathaway aptly creates a fully formed and believable character, even more so when the story takes a pivotal turn, revealing a side of Rebecca nobody saw coming.

Related: 10 Movies from the 1960s with Extremely Dark Ending

Shea Whigham also delivers a winning performance as Eileen’s tormented father — a career-defining role. Costars Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sam Nivola, and Tonye Patano shine in limited roles, which serve to fill out the desolate world Eileen occupies. Director William Oldroyd does a wonderful job bringing that chilly existence to life with an effective mix of broad wintery New England landscape shots and more boxed-in observations of Eileen and Rebecca’s body language or unlit scenes in Eileen’s home. The prison itself works metaphorically, too, as Eileen is trapped in an existence she doesn’t know how to escape. At one point, the ever-observant Rebecca gazes curiously at Eileen and muses, “You remind me of a girl in a Dutch painting… a beautiful turbulence.” A “beautiful turbulence aptly sums up this enthralling must-see thriller.

Eileen, from Neon Films, is currently playing in theaters.

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