Review by Sean Boelman
William Oldroyd’s romantic drama/thriller Lady Macbeth was wickedly fun, and was a large part of what kicked off the career of fan-favorite actress Florence Pugh. Those hoping for the same type of sinister thrills from Oldroyd’s newest film, Eileen, will be sorely disappointed, as it’s a largely dull crime drama with weak narrative momentum.
Based on the novel of the same name by Ottessa Moshfegh, the movie follows a woman working at a prison facility who forms an unusual friendship with a new coworker. Many people went in expecting this to be some sort of erotic thriller, and it’s very much not that, with Oldroyd’s charged direction bordering on queerbaiting.
For the most part, the pacing is absolutely glacial. It’s a film full of unrequited tension that ultimately doesn’t build into much of anything. In a way, it almost feels as if the movie is spinning its wheels to reach an ending that promises to be totally unhinged — but it simply isn’t enough to make the film feel compelling.
Eventually, the movie takes a drastic shift heading into the third act that comes out of left field. Perhaps this development worked better in novel form, where there was more time to build up to the conclusion, but it simply doesn’t feel like that was where the film was heading. On its own, the third act is quite compelling, but it feels rather underdeveloped in context.
The movie is perhaps most successful on a technical level, thanks to an aesthetic style that is wonderfully atmospheric. Cinematographer Ari Wegner is without a doubt the MVP of the film, creating a grainy look that replicates the crime genre perfectly; however, the work of costume designer Olga Mill and production designer Craig Lathrop should also not be ignored.
The main reason that many people will be seeing this movie is for the performance by Anne Hathaway, and she delivers a performance that — while kitschy and over-the-top — is completely engrossing. Especially in the third act, which embraces the more pulpy aspirations of the story, Hathaway is the only aspect of this film that keeps it energetic.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Thomasin McKenzie’s performance is less consistent. It’s clear that she is meant to be a subdued foil to Hathaway’s extravagance, but instead, her performance simply feels rather cold. On top of this, the Boston accent that she attempts is thoroughly unconvincing, drawing the viewer out of the story.
Eileen is a solidly-crafted movie and features yet another show-stopping performance from Anne Hathaway, but the script meanders and leaves something to be desired. It’s disappointing to see a film that has all of the pieces in place end up feeling so unmoving.
Eileen is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.