Sundance Film Festival: ‘Eileen’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When we think of Neo-noir, we tend to think about a male lead and a modern femme fatale as his counterpart. Many films have followed the same conventions, but Eileen, directed by William Oldroyd, creates a different setting. The film is adapted from the novel under the same name written by Ottessa Moshfegh. During Christmas, Eileen Dunlop (Thomasin McKenzie) befriends a new co-worker Dr. Rebecca Saint John (Anne Hathaway), at the local prison facility. Things turn sinister once they get to know each other. This mystery slowly builds over time as the budding relationship between Saint John and Dunlop has a palpable tension to hold your attention. 

Through the use of exemplary cinematography by Ari Wegner, we see that Eileen has two sides to her. Her brain is foggy as she observes women and couples from afar. It seems she hasn’t had a relationship yet, and her mind drifts off as she thinks of sexual encounters with people she sees. On top of that, she seems worn out, older than she looks, and miserable. After losing her mother, she’s stuck at home with her retired, abusive father, and Eileen has some dark thoughts. One case, in particular, sticks out at work where a young boy murdered his father. Eileen checks on the young man daily and wonders what’s going on in his mind. Causing her to question if she would do the same to her father and what her reasoning would be. Then enters Dr. Saint John, who turns her world upside down.

It’s hard to imagine Anne Hathaway in a blonde wig, but it doesn’t even dawn on you that it’s her. Hathaway completely embodied Dr. Saint John and was incredibly alluring. She was aloof or direct, depending on whom she was speaking to. Working in a men’s prison can sure have its moments, and that’s why there’s this softness when she approaches McKenzie. The chemistry between them was the best part of this film. Eileen wanted to be with Rebecca, but she always wanted to be as sure of herself as she was. After a drunken night at a bar filled with tensions, subtle glances and grazes, Eileen would do anything for Rebecca. And the desperation from Eileen was felt through and through. The third act was unexpected but worth the slow burn of this journey with these characters. 

Eileen won’t be for everyone, but it is for those who enjoy noir films and a strong duo with great tension. Hathaway was fantastic and will hold your attention throughout the film. Even though she doesn’t have much screen time, the scenes she does have will captivate you. McKenzie is engaging to watch, but it isn’t until the third act that she shines and dominates the ending. Oldroyd’s direction is strong throughout, and he shows both sides of Eileen; the miserable lifestyle she leads and the glamorous one she wants to lead. There are choices made to capture what she’s feeling simultaneous, which worked instead of a voiceover to explain her thoughts. It’s a slow burn that has a shocking ending that works for Eileen’s romanticized version of the life she wants. 

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