Eileen is an engaging, pulpy diversion that plays like an old-fashioned dime novel you had never planned to read but find that you can't put down.

Sundance Film Review: Eileen


Sundance Film Festival

Director: William Oldroyd

There’s something about a nice, grizzly, noir period piece that reels me in, and Eileen had me hook, line and sinker from the very beginning. Thomasin McKenzie stars as the titular young woman, whose life in 1960s Boston is a both a figurative and literal prison. When Elieen isn’t at work at the state penitentiary, where no one talks to her, she’s at home with her alcoholic father (Shea Whigham, Fancy Dance), who verbally abuses her. It’s a hard-knock life for Eileen, at least until a tall, sultry blonde in the form of a new prison psychiatrist enters her life. 

There’s something about Rebecca Saint John (Anne Hathaway) that pulls Eileen toward her like a magnet. Perhaps it’s the fact that Rebecca not only talks to Eileen, she also treats her like a colleague and friend. Perhaps it’s the older, worldly women’s considerable charisma. Either way, 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 proves to be easier asked than answered, and our heroine finds herself caught up in something far more complex than she ever suspected.

Director William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth) has a gift for atmospheric storytelling that brings to mind the Stephen King/Frank Darabont collaborations of the ’90s. While Ottessa Moshfegh‘s novel is quite a different story than The Shawshank Redemption, it does share that film’s basic message of “get busy living or get busy dying,” though taken in a different direction and gives it a feminist spin. 

McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit, Last Night in Soho) is a treat to watch, and seems to find her footing as a movie star here. Eileen is a smart, sympathetic figure who is easy to root for, and McKenzie’s portrayal of her gradual transformation into a self-assured woman is quite compelling. Hathaway sizzles as 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 handsomely. 

Eileen also benefits a great deal from narrative economy, keeping to a short runtime that never allows the story to meander. The stellar production design and moody score by Richard Reed Perry are also major additions to the plus column. The story features some disturbing elements, and it’s certainly not uplifting. There is still a distinctly empowering aspect to Eileen that is hard to resist 

Eileen is an engaging, pulpy diversion that plays like an old-fashioned dime novel you had never planned to read but find that you can’t put down. As a piece of artfully executed entertainment that takes some genuinely interesting turns, the film is not to be underestimated. –Patrick Gibbs


Jan. 28th, 8:15 PM / Megaplex Theatres at The Gateway 1/2/3